I recently attended an in-house seminar about intellectual property for consultants. When I first saw this topic, I thought they had a typo in the title. I thought that they meant to say, "Intellectual Property *is* Consultants," which, while grammatically awkward, seemed accurate enough. I mean, I always hear the sales guys saying, "Our people are our product." They say other things, too, but they're not really relevant and certainly aren't for polite company. The point, though, is that I had always thought that if our people were our product, then intellectual property, like Soylent Green, was people. It turns out that I was incorrect, and I wish that someone had straightened me out before I tried to check my technical analyst's brain into the corporate knowledge base.
So what is it, then? This phrase, "intellectual property" -- IP for short, Int Prop for not-quite-as-short -- is thrown around our office like a free Nerf frisbee from an insurance convention, and with about as much impact. I mean, sure, it sounds cool: intellectual property, who wouldn't want to buy some of that? But what is it? Can it be developed? Can you subdivide it and build intellectual high-rises? Can you sell an intellectual condominium, and would it have a higher appreciation rate than, say, an athletic condominium or a party house? If you have intellectual property, does it fade from existence when you stop thinking about it? Or is it something else? Is intellectual property just a more polite term for that guy you hired to write all of your term papers in college? (And yes, Boston Globe columnists, I'm looking at you).
The answer, as you've already guessed, is a resounding, "No, you idiot!" to all of the above. Clearly, my own intellectual property investments have devalued far below their purchase price. Intellectual property is not people: it is produced by people, and those people seem to feel pretty strongly that you should not try to take credit for their work. And that, as always, is where the lawyers come in. Our seminar leader, with his own lawyerly background, helped us to understand all of the different forms that intellectual property can take, and how you can legally sneak it out of your client's offices by hiding it under your coat when you leave for the night.
No, wait, that's not right either. He showed us how to avoid accidentally "borrowing" a client's intellectual property and thus getting your company in trouble with the client's lawyers, who aren't nearly as nice as ours. Some questions that were answered in this seminar included:
- What are the various forms that intellectual property can take?
- What is the difference between (c), (sm), and (tm)?
- Is intellectual property taxable, and can you write off the depreciation costs as you get older? Can the depreciation be accelerated if you get Alzheimer's?
- If an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of word processors did manage to create the complete works of Shakespeare, would they have to apply for a copyright or a patent to protect their work? And who would be more likely to hire them as spokesmonkeys: Microsoft or Apple?
Another question that he didn't answer is why that strange-looking engineer in the corner cube keeps asking me to come over to his apartment in his mom's basement to look at his patents. Actually, now that I think about it, that probably falls more appropriately under our recent sexual harassment training....
Anyway, if you're interested in this topic, then you can watch for my forthcoming book, Intellectual Property for Dummies. Genuine dummies receive a prorated price based upon the diminished amount of property they have to work with.
(PS - turns out that another Dummy beat me to the punch, so you can go buy his book instead. I don't know if Amazon honors the Dummy Discount policy, but it can't hurt to ask. Make sure not to spellcheck your email: it just helps to make your case.)