Whenever, one thinks of protecting intellectual property (IP) such as engineering designs and inventions, one tends to think of patents. After all, some firms file a ferocious number of patents every year to protect their IP. Think of IBM who received an unbelievable 6,809 patents last year. There are three categories of intellectual property – patents (for inventions); trademarks and copyright (for creative work such as plans, videos and films).
What – why bother to protect my IP?
I know that most of you will chortle quietly when it comes to protecting your intellectual property (IP). ‘What intellectual property do I possibly own ?”, you will exclaim with some exasperation. But you will be surprised at how often simple ideas you have developed over many years, can be become intensely valuable property. IP represents the property of your mind or intellect. It doesn’t have to be a software search algorithm designed by Caltech PhD; but perhaps something very simple for cleaning your pool in a simpler more effective way.
As noted above, there are various types of IP such as patents, trademarks (letters/phrases/logos), designs (shapes or appearances of manufactured goods) and copyright for original material (programs and books). Most of us are familiar with patents, which grant an exclusive licence to the patent holder for a period of 20 years (in the US, at least), but copyright is slightly different.
Copyright Your Manicured Dog
A copyright (this can vary from country to country),gives a maximum of 95 years for corporate ownership or the life of the author, plus 70 years. Note that copyright (and indeed circuit layout rights) are automatically granted to you upon creation. Other IP rights (patents being the best example here) have to be registered with local and international governmental organisations. Registration varies from country to country. For example, in the US, copyrights are registered with the government whereas in Australia, no registration is required.
Steal IP with Panache
As you know, the global market is increasingly aggressive about stealing valuable know-to gain that competitive edge. The internet has made it really difficult to protect copyright with every book and film available for download for free. It is very hard to sustain development of creative capital when you will be copied overnight by someone who doesn’t incur the costs of development. Ownership of the IP rights give you the legal recognition of your ownership and goes a long way to protecting it from unfair competition. Quite an expensive and onerous task but worthwhile considering.
A famous example of where things went awry is the (perhaps, simple) Kambrook powerboard. The product was enormously successful and led to Kambrook becoming a major world player (esp. in the Asia Pacific) in this consumer business but the IP was not protected (it should have been patented) and within a short time, it was copied and is sold throughout the world by aggressively competing firms who stole the concept totally, thus losing the originator of the idea, tens of millions every year in royalties.
IP Is the Main Engine of Growth
There is no doubt that intellectual property is the main engine of growth for any business and is especially advantageous in challenging economic times such as now. Ranging from innovative engineering designs (eg improved efficiencies), to pioneering engineering technologies such as deep water drilling or space exploration.
In essence, don’t simply give away your intellectual property; but treat it as importantly as cash and your other assets. And remember that copyright protection can also be considerably cheaper and quicker than registering a patent.
A few strategies:
- Consider what IP you have. Often this is what gives you and your business a competitive edge.
- How are you protecting it?
- Implement strategies to harness the development of IP in your firm
- Avoid telling others about your IP until you have protection in place.
We should always remember the remarks of an old sage about our assets: The wise man carries his possessions within him.
Thanks to John R. Platt of the IEEE for an interesting article entitled: Why Copyright Still Matters to Today’s Tech Pros.
Yours in engineering learning,