World Intellectual Property Day 2011

“Art in industry” – Design. Innovation. Creation. These are not just the latest buzzwords for the industrial world. They are real, sound principles which in practice propel the world forward. Whether it is the launch of the latest iPad or Lamborghini, or research in break-through technology for clean energy, or the latest blockbuster 3D film, the nucleus of this flurry of activity is always the creative work. Or rather, the creative worker.

Wherever it is you work, be it in a design studio, a lab, or if you write music, take photographs, are a sketch artist or a writer – in every case we are dealing with work which can be commercialised, sold, licensed out and exploited. It is through intellectual property rights that this exploitation can occur, since third parties need to acquire the rights to use the work.

In celebration of intellectual property rights, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) will be commemorating the annual World Intellectual Property Day on the 26th of April. The date is a significant one – April 26 is the date on which the Convention establishing WIPO first entered into force in 1970.

Since 1970, industrial and intellectual property rights in all their forms have worked their way into our daily lives. Take the mobile phones as an example, there may be a patent for the parts which make it up, or the material it is made of; a trade mark for the name, and possibly a trade mark for the shape of the product itself; a design right for the phone or for the packaging and get up; copyright in the instructions manual. So much is generated around one product.

Often forgotten are the newer, or more periphery IP rights, such as geographical indications of origin and protected designations of origin – the reason why Champagne is only used on a particular type of sparkling white wine produced in the region of the same name, why Parmiggiano Reggiano only means a certain type of cheese, and why Budweiser have been having a hard time in Europe since the Budvar region is used similarly to Champagne, and is a well-known beer producing area.

World Intellectual Property Day celebrates all of this, in the hopes of increasing public understanding of what Intellectual Property really means, how the system fosters not only music, arts and entertainments, but also all the products and technological innovations that help to shape our world.

This year’s focus for World IP Day is design, with the tag line being “Designing the Future”. In his message, WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry referred to design as “art in industry”. His message emphasised that design “provides the means to differentiate between mass-produced objects, drawing us to one product rather than another, making one brand more successful than another”.

Design is such an essential element of creation, production, and communication. We come across the fruit of product design every time we pick up or use one of the thousands of objects we come into contact with in our daily lives, we wear clothes which ultimately stem from fashion design, we use websites designed by web developers, read newspapers and magazines which are put together by designers and typographers, and we buy things after seeing adverts designed to catch our attention as we navigate the sea of information overload. Design is definitely not a new concept, but is, unfortunately, overlooked.

However, earlier this year, innovation and creativity were celebrated in Malta with the “Award for Creativity and Innovation of the World Intellectual Property Organisation”. Engineer Brian Cauchi was named Best Inventor in recognition for his work on communications analysers. Other categories rewarded were the “Creativity” category, the “Best Young Inventor” category and the “Innovative Enterprise” category.

And after paying homage to innovation and creativity the focus shifts to sustainability. This is another theme for this years’ World IP Day. And in fact, sustainability is now the catchphrase du jour not for design alone, but even for trade marks. An apt survey carried out by IP attorney Erik Pelton uncovered how the most popular terms included in trade mark applications for 2011 are “eco”, “green”, “organic” and interestingly for the word “social”, but more on that next time…