Intellectual Property (IP)

Intellectual Property (IP) is a catch-all term used to describe a range of different types of assets, also known as, or more generally, a special class of intangible assets or creations of the mind that can be owned by law by an individual or organisation and is able to be traded similarly to tangible ‘bricks and mortar’ assets.  Intellectual Property generally refers to such assets including, patents, trade marks registered designs, and copyright.  IP generally includes legal rights protecting discoveries and inventions; trade reputation & goodwill; music, literature & other artistic works; & words, phrases, symbols, and designs.  Intellectual Property is also often used to refer to other asset classes including, for example, trade dress or trade secrets.

Intellectual Property law has evolved over many centuries, however the term itself was not coined until the 19th century and it wasn’t until the late 20thcentury that the term became common place around the world.  The legal rights surrounding IP have their origins in the ancient Greek colony of Sybaris where innovative chefs were granted year-long monopolies for creating particular culinary delights.  One of the first legal instruments issued to protect the intellectual creations of a person was issued by the Republic of Florence on June 19, 1421 to architect Filippo Brunelleschi.  The first lasing institution of intellectual property protection, however, did not come into existence until the Florentine patent statute of 1474, 150 years prior to England’s Statute of Monopolies in 1624.  In the Florentine patent statute, the rights of inventors were recognized, an incentive mechanism was included, compensation for infringement was established, and a term limit on inventors’ rights was imposed.  The Statute of Monopolies granted fourteen-year monopolies to authors and inventors and ended the practice of granting rights to “non-original/new” ideas or works already in the public domain. From these humble beginnings, it was estimated in 2000 by Leonard Nakamura of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, that intangible assets were responsible for 1 trillion US dollars of investment having a capitalized value of in excess of $ 6 trillion in that same year.

There are many great examples of good product design that are the result of many years of development and refinement. Particularly notable is the iPhone by Apple Inc. which, when it was first released in the United States in June 2007, started a revolution in the personal mobile device industry and effectively starting the smartphone movement. The iPhone concept was originally conceived of by Steve Jobs in 2005 as a method of interacting with a computer using a multi-touch screen – effectively making the keyboard or individual letter keys (e.g. on Blackberry devices at the time) obsolete.  The initial designs were carried out in secret within Apple Inc. and when the first prototype was shown to Steve, he conceived of the idea to integrate it into a mobile phone which was announced in his keynote address at the Macworld conference as on January 9 2007 with the words: “I have been looking forward to this for two and a half years …. today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.” The iPhone design sparked a massive push by existing mobile phone developers to try to ‘catch up’ to the Apple iPhone resulting in the current landscape of a variety of smartphone devices by many manufacturers, most of which have – either directly or indirectly – been in some form of litigation with Apple, Inc over copying of the design of the iPhone hardware and software enabling the user interactions with the device. Time magazine named the iPhone the Invention of the Year in 2007.