Cases over disputed intellectual property have become increasingly prevalent in recent years. The advent of the digital era has seen a massive growth in the transmission of information; communication is quicker and news spreads fast over the Internet. Although this allows for easier ways to create greater product awareness and increase public interest, it also exposes designers and inventors to the perils of plagiarism, copying and possible theft of one’s creative endeavours. Essentially, it is instances such as these that the intellectual property system aims to prevent – which is why it is important for creatives to have an awareness of the legal steps which can be taken in order to protect their intellectual property rights.
Intellectual property is often defined as “that which is produced by human intellect”, “creations of the mind” or “intangible property that is the result of creativity”. Because the Better Living Challenge is about design for social change, intellectual property needs have been considered from this perspective. Intellectual property law offers various ways to protect intellectual property rights, from an “original idea” stage right through to product development stage and sales, in order to prevent others from unduly benefitting from unauthorised exploitation or use of the protected intellectual property.
Intellectual property includes patents, trademarks, designs and copyright as well as other intangible property such as, for example, confidential information and “know-how”.
Our Better Living Challenge legal partners Adams & Adams advise that: “although imitation is said to be a form of flattery, designers unfortunately often find their creations copied before they can enjoy the full market benefit that these creations provide.”
Charne le Roux from Adams & Adams continues: “An important reality to confront is that ideas without legal protection cannot be monopolised by a designer. Once ideas/concepts are disclosed, our law generally permits their being copied and developed – as long as the copying does not contravene any recognised rights. These rights must be examined and understood, in order to benefit from them and designers must be pro-active and invest in securing advice and protection early on.”
The Better Living Challenge is a competition aimed at social upliftment and community development and accordingly acknowledges the need for participants to benefit commercially from their designs and to be protected from the unauthorised use of their designs. The craft and design sector offers a particular set of challenges when dealing with intellectual property rights and Adams & Adams has been an invaluable partner in guiding the competition’s finalists and winners in this regard.
In 2014, Adams & Adams conducted two Intellectual Property information workshops as part of the support that the Better Living Challenge offers to entrants and the craft and design sector in general. Structural Home Category winner Chris Whyte of USE-It’s Compressed Earth Blocks utilised the support service and worked with Adams & Adams to conduct patent searches in connection with their Compressed Earth Blocks which are building blocks manufactured from waste material and soil destined for landfills. These blocks are 3-5 times stronger than concrete blocks, cheaper, ten times more thermally efficient, and environmentally friendly too.
Chris Whyte says: “The discussion with Adams & Adams was very useful in light of Use-It having aspirations to design and manufacture its own block making machine. A couple of IP due diligences were explored in this meeting, for instance – Adams & Adams gathered information with regard to already existing patents in the field. We also discussed the effect of the Berne Convention in protecting international copyright, particularly for engineering drawings.”
The legal expertise that Adams & Adams offered successfully guided the process to ensure that Whyte and his team are able to continue with their product development from a more knowledgeable and confident position.
In order to fully achieve the aims of the Better Living Challenge, the Cape Craft and Design Institute (CCDI), which is project managing the competition, would like to see the inventions of all finalists implemented in low-income communities and for the distribution of products embodying these inventions to create a positive impact on the local economy. Key to this vision is protecting the ideas of the Challenge’s participants.
In summary, remember to see a lawyer before you disclose your ideas in any way, otherwise you may not be the only one to benefit from your great concept.