“Beneath this mask there is more than flesh; beneath this mask there is an idea; and ideas are bulletproof,” said the masked vigilante in the movie “V for Vendetta” before snapping the neck of a corrupt politician. I was acting out the final fight sequence the other day (note to self: must get a life!), and as I was about to utter the above-mentioned line, I was intrigued by it. Could ideas really be protected? Can ideas be bulletproofed?
In this modern Information Age, ideas are held in higher regard than ever before. The global gold rush for new ideas and information, coupled with such limited supply, has led to huge corporations going to war with each other to secure monopoly of their ideas. Their weapon of choice is none other than stockpiles of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs). The worldwide legal proceedings between Apple and Samsung are salient examples of an arms race of sorts where IPRs ranging from Patents to Trademarks, Copyrights to Industrial Designs are tossed into the fray.
So can IPRs do anything for us, the lowly plebeians? I am sure all of us have had moments in our lives when we came up with an idea so good we thought a Nobel Prize would surely follow, and if Georg C. Lichtenberg is right in saying that “everyone is a genius at least once a year,” then surely our ingenuity is worth protecting as well? Small simple ideas could potentially mean big business. As a matter of fact, Patents have been granted to ideas as small and as simple as the Post-it Notes by 3M’s Arthur Fry. Inspired while he was singing in his church choir and needed bookmarks that would stick to the pages of the hymnal without leaving marks or causing damage, Fry thought up what would eventually become the scourge of office janitors everywhere – essentially pieces of paper with an adhesive strip at the back for sticking to flat surfaces and foreheads. Joseph B. Friedman, educated in real estate and optometry, invented and patented the bendy straw found on almost every packet drink and in every Mamak store today. Also, the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, had a patent for a pair of shoes which hooks onto a bolt on the dance floor that would allow him to lean forward to an acute angle without him falling over and doing more damage to his face, if that is actually possible. A Patent need not be complicated, as long as the idea is new, has an inventive step that is not obvious to someone with knowledge and experience in the subject and can be produced or used in any industry. Patents could be granted to inventions, methods of making things, compositions of a material or how things work. So, the next time you hear the click of a light bulb in your head, it might just be followed by the “ka-ching!” of a cash register.
Remember the corny songs you wrote for your high school sweetheart? The self-portrait that was supposed to be classical-romantic, but turned out to be an abstract post-modernist picture of a goat? The photos you took with your camera phone that could have ended your career if you actually had one? The papier-mâché bust of your recently deceased Aunt Gertrude? Or the article on IPRs you wrote which you thought was literary gold but some (most) readers thought was an absolute waste of their time? Believe it or not, regardless of their artistic/literary merit, those things are automatically protected by Copyright if you live in one of the 165 member countries of the Berne Convention (including Malaysia). Although your works are automatically protected, to be doubly sure, you can also lodge a voluntary notice with the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO). The notice would then serve as prima facie evidence in Court of the ownership of the Copyright.
Have a good idea for a name/logo/tagline for your business? Register it as a trademark. It lasts for 10 years and could potentially be yours for eons to come if you renew it every 10 years and of course, if you are immortal. Due to their longevity and their function as the face of a corporation, some trademarks have been valued at billions of dollars. Exempli gratia, Apple’s trademark had been valued at USD 87.1 billion by Forbes in 2012, followed by Microsoft’s at USD 54.7 billion.
If you want to keep your ideas safe, the best way to protect it is to make sure no one knows about it. Unlike the Qin Emperor who had the craftsmen and slaves involved in the building of his tomb buried alive to keep its secrets and treasures safe, you can keep your treasured ideas safe without indulging your homicidal thoughts by keeping them a Trade Secret. Although not technically an IPR, Trade Secrets have been used by many corporations to keep their ideas from falling into the hands of their competitors. For example, KFC’s famous Original Recipe of 11 herbs and spices is locked up in a computerized vault securely guarded by motion detectors and security cameras. To keep Trade Secrets protected, you must establish that the ideas are kept confidential. And if you do need to tell anyone of the idea, make sure that they sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Yes even Aunt Gertrude. If they divulge the information to anyone, it will be a breach of confidence and you can take legal action against them. However, once your ideas or Trade Secret is made public, you will lose your rights to it.
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen,” so said John Steinbeck, giving his two cents on ideas and rabbit reproduction. How you handle your ideas is very important to their worth. If your ideas are protected with IP registration, it would give you a monopoly over them and that will significantly increase their value. If you think about it, would you spend hundreds of thousands on a Ferrari if you can’t lock the door?