Thursday, 26 June 2014

Intellectual Property Rights and how it affects the consumer

(First appeared in Consumer News Namibia Magazine April 2013)

In many areas of business today, the term Intellectual Property (IP) is being used to justify the higher price of a product or service – and the prevention of competing businesses being able to provide the same product or service. This means a competing business may not sell the product or service at all – even if it would mean a cheaper cost to the consumer. However, it is important that intellectual property rights protection be encouraged in society to ensure that better inventions, products or services are being created.
Wikipedia defines IP as:
Intellectual property (IP) rights are the legally recognized exclusive rights to creations of the mind. Under intellectual property law, owners are granted certain exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs. Common types of intellectual property rights include copyright, trademarks, patents, industrial design rights, trade dress, and in some jurisdictions trade secrets.
As a consumer, we all want to be able to buy a product for a cheaper price, but we do not want to compromise on the quality of the product, or even worse use a cheaper product that might actual cause us physical harm. It is thus clear that there must be a point of equality where the IP holder gets a decent return for the investment of their idea or invention compared to the price the consumer has to pay for such a product or service.
To understand this concept better, let us examine each type of right that is referred to:
·         Copyright
Copyright gives the creator of an original work the chance to receive payment for their work and allow them to financially support themselves through this work. This is often granted to visual and audio works such as music, books, paintings, etc. Copyright is recognized without any formal registration in most countries – as long as the work is in a completed form.

·         Trademarks
A trademark is sign, design or expression that identifies products or services from a specific source. International examples include Coca Cola, Facebook and Toyota. In Namibia, an example is the trademark of MTC which is fully written out as Mobile Telecommunications Limited. Trademarks allow the consumer to be assured that a specific product or service does in fact originate from the company whose trademark is used.

·         Patents
A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a country to an inventor for a limited period of time in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention. The exclusive right granted to a patentee in most countries is the right to prevent others from making, using, selling, importing, or distributing a patented invention without permission.

·         Industrial Design
An industrial design right protects the visual design of objects that are not purely practical or functional. It can consist of the creation of a shape, configuration or composition of pattern or color, or combination of pattern and color in three-dimensional form containing artistic value. An industrial design can be a two- or three-dimensional pattern used to produce a product, industrial commodity or handicraft. In Namibia, local handicrafts can qualify for industrial design rights.

·         Trade Dress
This refers to characteristics of the visual appearance of a product or its packaging that signify the source of the product to consumers. Examples are the Team Namibia products that carry the Team Namibia logo.

In Namibia, the government, business community, civil society and the consumer needs to define how to ensure that intellectual property rights are protected (and encouraged) while not allowing exploitation of the consumer.

Milton Louw is a consumer activist and writer. He is presently the IT Project Coordinator at the Electoral Commission of Namibia. The opinions expressed in this article are purely his own.

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