IP – putting a price on an idea

IP. It’s a funny old thing and one that is often a contentious issue. It’s something  that people have heard of, but if it doesn’t affect them directly, they’re a little blasé about. Those of us in the creative world think very differently. Intellectual Property is our life blood, its what makes us tick – and its what keeps our businesses thriving. On World Intellectual Property Day, Think Design’s MD Paul Grogan has plenty to say on the matter – and shares his views on how we could minimise the issues surrounding it.

What’s your view on IP?

The main issue with creativity is that it isn’t governed. It should be enshrined in law that concepts, designs and ideas remain the property of the originator for their lifespan – yet there is nothing in place to enforce this. IP is so commonly misunderstood that it’s an issue we come across all the time.

As a design agency, we find that most of our clients are happy to pay for our time to create a something tangible for their business – a logo, a website, a brochure or whatever – placing their focus solely on the end result. What they often don’t account for is just how we get to that and the creative process involved – and this is where confusion can occur. They simply don’t understand that what goes on in the background is, in essence, where the real value lies –  it’s all about the idea that led to that finished item. They don’t recognise that part of our fee accounts for the 20 years-experience that enables us to design something that really works – it’s our natural creative ability, or sometimes, an idea that might just come to us in the middle of the night. 

In a nutshell, they are paying for our intellectual property – with the emphasis on our.

Putting a value on that is difficult enough – but then having to fight to retain the ownership of the concept is a different story all together – and quite frankly absurd. 

What problems have you encountered with IP and clients in the past?

Understanding the basic premise is always an issue. Many clients simply don’t get it. Mr X can ask us to build a websites for his widgets. In his world, he sells his widgets and then simply passes ownership to the buyer. He expects the same in ours, as its all he knows. It’s our job as an agency to be absolutely transparent from the start – and on the whole, clients respect this. Problems usually occur months – or even years – down the line, as no one has bothered to raise IP at the start of a project.

How can clients and agencies work better together on IP?

I think getting that basic understanding in place from the start is the way forward. Once clients understand that there is more value to what we do, the sooner IP will become less of a problem. They need to understand from the off that IP remains the property of the originator.

As a creative can you keep a handle on it – particularly in a pitch scenario?

At Think Design, we’re pretty savvy on this and we do everything we can. IP is written into our Ts & Cs of business and won’t pitch for work that involves handing over the IP. All our designs are copyrighted, but this hasn’t stopped ideas being stolen on occasion.

In a pitch scenario it gets even more complex. We’re expected to work our balls off, often to unrealistic deadlines, for no guarantees – and no fee. In what other industry would you be expected to hand over work for free, particularly when you might not even win the work? Even in industries closely related to us, for example copywriting, it would be rare for an agency to be asked to write reams of content before they had even got the job.

The answerer? It’s really quite simple. We, as a creative industry need to take a stand and put an end to free pitching – and write an IP clause in to all pre-pitch contracts,

Do you think some creatives stick their head in the sand on this issue?

Yes – absolutely. I’ve worked at agencies who’ve lost pitches only to see a practically identical design appear from the client months later. Yet they put it down to just “one of those things”  – and do absolutely nothing. Any graduates entering this industry should be coming in to it with a clear idea of just how valuable their IP is – and guidelines on how to protect it.

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