In the old days when communication, travel and acquiring knowledge were not within the easy access of ordinary citizens, it was pointless to talk about the protection of one’s rights when one invented or discovered something of use – be it an electric or mechanical fan, a printing machine, or something novel like the early computing machine. No sooner had the invention been made and the idea translated into an implement than was the implement copied by many people who cared to take the trouble to study one such implement and then to duplicate it without consideration for the rights of the original inventor.
As time went by, governments took cognizance of the necessity to safeguard the rights of the original thinker or inventor who first thought of an idea, or who first thought out a special design or who invented a certain tool, appliance etc. Thus was born the legal entity of patent, which is a systematic way of protecting the rights of the inventors. The Patent Office (in US and many commonwealth countries, known as such) has been established to register inventors who have to put their design and ideas on paper and submit them to the Office for registration in order that the patent could be protected. Different jurisdictions have slightly different ways of registering and recognizing a patent, but in most countries, when a patent ( viz the design, the lay-out, the shapes of an instrument or appliance; a formula for a cough mixture, or a recipe for a certain cure etc) has been submitted and duly registered, it is more or less protected with the qualification that in certain countries (e.g. US) the idea or design has to go beyond the design stage for it to be fully protected as a patent – in the sense that if anybody else were to make use of the invention (whatever it is), he is regarded as having acted in infringement of the patent. In addition, many countries impose a time period ( depending on the type of patent – for example whether it is merely a design or it has the potential of utility ) within which the patent is fully protected and beyond which there is either no more protection or limited protection.
Another term which comes to mind when discussing patents is trademarks. A trademark may be loosely defined as a logo, design, or some diagrammatic or written representation of a business concern. For example, the fast food giant, McDonald, is well-known for its logo M, its ‘mascot’ Ronald McDonald and other trademarks which distinguish it from other fast food franchises. However, this doesn’t stop other traders from using the term ‘Mc’ despite the fact that McDonald had definitely done all it could to protect its trademarks, in the US and throughout the world. In Malaysia for example, the courts had found that another restaurant business with the name ‘McCurry’ did not infringe upon the trademarks of McDonald. In like vein, when the Japanese Giant Matsushita Electric sued the Malaysian electric company Pensonic for infringement of its trademark name Panasonic, the suit was shot down because as it turned out, the trade name Pensonic was registered earlier than Panasonic in Malaysia. So trademark protection varies from country to country, in different jurisdictions.
What about intellectual property? By its very name which contains ‘intellectual’ – this means property which is brought about by the original workings of the mind. For instance if you write a book from thinking out a subject, a story or anything else which is largely the product of your original mental labour, then you could lay claim to the title (‘title’ here is a legal concept – meaning you are the owner) of the book and say that you now possess this ‘intellectual property’ which is a book, just as if you are the registered owner of a piece of land then you are said to own ‘real property’. The same goes if you write a song, a poem,or paint, construct something unique. Similarly, if you are the original writer of a software program, be it a video-game or a complicated office management system, then once you have written the program, you are then the rightful owner of the relevant intellectual property. Of course, it is not too difficult in this modern world of technological advance for somebody with similar training to write out another program that could be very similar to your program and some unscrupulous people may even copy your program but clothe it slightly differently and then claim it to be their own. Which brings us to the point – that it is vitally important to protect your intellectual property rights by registering with the relevant law enforcement bodies, one of which is the Patent Office.
With the advent of advances in Internet connectivity and file-sharing software, it is now possible for many surfers of the net to download music, files, documents, and even whole movies. In principle, this is clear ‘stealing’ and robbing the original intellectual property owners of their rights and benefits. Imagine, those who download the music or the movies do not pay any royalties to the song-writers nor to the movie-makers. The reason people could download the aforementioned with impunity is because there are legal lacunae in intellectual property laws. However, the picture is slowly changing and more and more governments of the world have begun to recognize the rights of these intellectual property owners and are formulating laws and provisions to better safeguard and protect the rights of the intellectual workers and to prosecute those involved in copying and pirating intellectual properties that never belong to them in the first place. People should also be educated to shun copying and avoid buying pirated copies of DVDs, software etc. They should be mindful of the dictum: Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you.