Intellectual Property

Intellectual property, or IP, is an important aspect in the creative industry. IP refers to any creation of the mind so in terms of web and mobile development this will refer to web designs, logo design, names of companies and websites, images and even code. These creations are protected by law using patent, trademark and copyright law so the creator, or the client the creator has produced the work for, is recognised as the rightful owner.

html5 code on a screen
Who owns this code?

These laws are in place to protect but can they also hinder or stifle creativity? Those original patent laws were put in place so competitors couldn’t steal ideas and produce them as their own at a cheaper price but, over the years, have these same laws been corrupted and abused to the point where original creativity is hampered? These laws have opened the door to patent trolls who exist simply to establish hundreds or thousands of patents with the goal being to sue anyone who produces work even remotely similar.

In the tech field copying and improving upon an existing product is rife and even Steve Jobs stated that Apple is “shameless about stealing great ideas”.  Apple, Samsung and many other large tech firms have been accused of stealing ideas or having ideas stolen from them and these cases inevitably end up being settled out of court. For a smaller business or individual, with less money, a patent theft accusation could easily destroy that business and so they may not even try to innovate for fear of litigation.

In the web and mobile development field the subject of intellectual property is no less complicated. When a client asks for a site or app to be made there must be an agreement in writing about who owns the underlying software, images, logos, text, etc. Without this agreement, there will always be an argument between “but I created it” and “but I paid for it”.

A contract being signed
Always get it in writing!

In the end, it comes down to that one simple rule. Always have an agreement in writing, before any project is started, that clearly defines who will own what. This way, the client and the creator has a clear understanding before any work is started.

These sites were excellent resources in writing this article and provide more detailed info than I could fit in here:

Kauffman – How intellectual property can help or hinder innovation

Co.Design – Watch how IP laws destroy creativity, instead of encouraging it

Wright Hassall – Intellectual property in web development

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