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Intellectual Property: Building ownership into brands

24 Sep 2021

Intellectual property (IP) is something we talk & read about regularly, often in terms of building ownership into a brand. However, there’s been a few cases in the media lately that have caused a stir, from disputes over similar packaging, to recording artists with similar ‘vibes’, to big brands exploiting independent artists – which has got us thinking about some of the ways we use creative design to build ownership into brands…

Unexpectedly, the discussions surrounding IP aren’t overwhelmingly in favour of those supposedly ‘protecting’ their brand, but have instead sparked an open conversation as to where we should be drawing the line, and the need to acknowledge that a lot of creative talent is inspired by what’s come before. What we’ve noticed, is that overzealous lawyers using their weight to ensure the flow of creativity only goes one way, is doing more damage than good to brands caught up in disputes over IP. So how do we build own-ability and accept that once in the world, a design becomes a part of the history that defines the visual language of a category.

As designers, we’re constantly finding the balance between what’s understood by consumers, and how far we can push an idea in a new direction, so without looking backwards, forwards and sideways, or acknowledging the entire context of a brand or product, we fail to communicate.

To us, a brand is the sum of its parts, not the individual assets alone. A brand’s solid foundations are it’s own-able assets, specially formed and embedded with the individual brand story. It’s then constructed with layers of reference and familiar semiotics that align it in a world that can be inherently understood. Without weaving in these layers of meaning, it becomes easier for others to replicate. However, we also have to accept that some of these layers represent a particular zeitgeist or semiotic that other brands may have just as much cause to use, so we have to use them in a way that adds to the overall brand, but doesn’t define it.

When it comes to IP, brands need to protect themselves and the hard work that’s been invested in its original ideas, but not in a way that threatens the creative freedom to be inspired by what’s around us. As an independent design studio working and collaborating with artists and brands of different sizes, we look forward to more discussions on the topic and seeing what new challenges or shifts it may bring about.

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