I am amazed by the number of stories I read in the media these days, of artistes claiming that other artistes or producers stole their style or beats or songs or lyrics. I do not like to take sides in such matters because it is really difficult to determine who stole from whom. In my opinion, intellectual property cannot really be stolen unless we are talking about piracy of books, videos or music, plagiarism, or the obvious “copy & paste without making any significant changes”, all of which can be prevented. Until you have exclusive rights to it, I do not think it can be called your intellectual property anyway. I don’t care if you sang it in the shower in 1990 or in the studio in 2005 . I believe ideas are like spirits and can appear in more than one place at a time.
I have been trying to register my business with the Corporate Affairs Commission. Yes, I’m getting tired of waking up at 5.a.m every weekday but that’s a story for another day....The first couple of times I searched for a business name they were all taken. I almost cried, to think that some random guy in Enugu was using my most treasured business name. Names I had thought of since I was in University.... Names I had dreamt about. Names I had not even told a soul. Had they been stolen from my mind or from my dreams? Not really. Other people had simply come up with the same ideas. If I had started operating with any of those names before thinking of getting it registered, I might have ended up in big trouble for stealing someone’s business name without even knowing it. As much as we like to believe that our ideas are unique and exclusive to us, this is often not the case. As most human inventions are made to fill a void or meet a need, a lot of our ideas are universal and can be conceived by many others, especially those who have similar needs and challenges.
Something happened in an office not far from mine, last year. During the Christmas period, contractors sent proposals to the office advertising varieties of Christmas hampers that could be supplied to clients for a fee. One of the proposals was very original and appealing, what I like to call a “star proposal”. The receptionist was overwhelmed with the volume of proposals they received and dumped them all in a corner, asking Banke, a friend of hers to help with sorting them. Banke came across the “star proposal” and took it away. She tore of the front page which had the details of the contractor, attached her own newly designed front page and took it back to the office. Fortunately for her and tragically for the contractor, Banke got the contract and made a good sum of money. As for how we found out, I’ll keep that a secret. The idea of hampers was probably discovered years ago by someone who gets no credit for it today, but what about the stress of writing that proposal, searching for and listing high-class gift items to arranged in the hamper? What about the cost of printing glossy pictures? A bold watermark on each page might have saved the contactor.
We all are gifted with our individual talents which cannot be taken away from us. However, we need to work on these talents to hone them and make the best out of them. If you come up with an idea which you consider an exceptional breakthrough, guard it with all your might. Read about it. Google is your friend. Ask questions. Has it been done before? Does it exist? At this stage you must be tactful. Learn to gather the information you need without giving out the actual details. As soon as you discover that your concept is marketable, you need to take legal steps. Speak with a lawyer and take advantage of non-disclosure agreements and copyright, trademark and patent laws. It is cheaper in the long-run and less stressful than trying to file a suit over who stole from whom. You might not win the case. Don’t waste the money you haven’t even made.
Your idea could be a song, a painting or perhaps a new drink. Protect it. Brand your proposals. Don’t keep blabbing about your idea while someone else is making the dough! Write. Research. Focus. Talk less. Think more. Yes, thank me later. And when the millions start rolling in, don’t forget to pay some into my bank account.
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