On giving, taking and the naming of IP courses

One way for academics
to attract the interest of business
studies students is to turn up for
classes wearing a thought-
provoking hat ...
The IPKat's Anglo-Danish friend and scholar Matthew J. Elsmore (Lektor, Associate Professor, Centre for International Business Law, Aarhus School of Business), has written to him as follows, in the end-of-year spirit of giving and receiving:
"The giving bit 
As I try to write some fresh material for a non-law and non-IP audience about IP, it has come to my attention that to do a really good job I need to explain the terminology of IP (and IP law) in a clear and accessible way. This is part of laying the foundation for all the later stuff. My intended audience is business graduates taking elective courses on business and IP in a global setting. My words will, I hope, form part of the reading materials for several new IP-related courses I am involved with designing at Aarhus University in Denmark. 
At the beginning of my writing process I have naturally come across the terms “IP” and “IPRs”. “IP” is fine. I am happy with my definition. I can explain it to businesses in a way they will understand. But why “IPRs” and why the use of the word “rights”? I add that my main target group is the future SME part of the business graduate community. 
I ask because law as much about obligations as it is about rights (and sometimes more so the former). IP law, and IPRs, may be a case in point. The ‘negative’ nature of the IP right means it is very much all about what legally speaking others are not allowed to do (with the IP right), rather than what (positive) rights there are (either for them as the ‘user’ or the IP right owner). For me, the law is not couched in these ‘positive’ or enabling terms. I realise there is some circularity here, and that I am generalising, but I hope the reader gets my point. 
I’m not completely sure if this is purely an academic point, but my instincts and the possible look on my audience’s face tend to make me think it is more than semantics. 
As lawyers we know that the law is set up to start with exclusivity of an IP award and it sort of works backwards from there. I can understand this: it is easier for the law to define what is not allowed rather than what is following an IP award. OK – but using IPRs to describe this might not make sense for a small business person. 
Anyway, this very brief explanation leads me to suggest why not therefore call IPRs “IPOs”, i.e. Intellectual Property Obligations (not initial public offerings). One answer is because that abbreviation is vulnerable to the same points I have just made, albeit a little less so than for “rights”. The best thing would be to use a neutral name and I therefore suggest “IPL” as in Intellectual Property Law. I'm sure this is not innovative but I have never actually seen or heard it. Given the diversity of all that comes within the umbrella term of IP and IP law, the IPL term makes the most sense for me. It is rather odd that I have never read or heard this title (I'm sure others have). But more important is to ask whether this is a missed opportunity? I wonder if such a neutral expression goes some small way to de-politicising the oft-highly charged IP/policy/trade discussion which often starts with “IPRs” and inevitably from there fuels a sort of “IP haves and IP have-nots” ensuing debate and negotiation. In my humble view, the names of things are rather important (especially for politicians): first impressions and misperceptions, and books and their covers, and all that kind of stuff. Perhaps this is all a bit optimistic, and idealistic even, but if you can’t make a wish at Christmas, then can you .…

The receiving bit
My request of the IPKat teams and readers relates to the giving bit, and in particular, the business/SME audience I referred to above. I am trying to come up with a snappy sexy title for the teaching course I mentioned. The optional course is based in Denmark, delivered and orally examined in English, and mainly offered at the masters’ level. The non-law non-IP students are business-focused and international in flavour (they come from all over), and about to hit the global market with their ideas and ambitions. The course is enabling, aiming to be practical with case studies, i.e. leading with business activities and decisions and explaining the IP (law) story afterwards (not the other way round – which in my view is rather artificial and not all that businesslike). And, rather than using heavy IP law language, the course will try to "translate" all the law stuff into usable plain IP for business English. But despite my good intentions, I need help to sell this course. And for my possible customers, as in the ‘real world’ of consumer-facing business, the names of things (again) can be critical. Are there any suggestions for what the title of my course could be? Once I have the name, I can plug the course (here)! And if the final name I use comes from this blog as source, I will naturally pay the due moral and legal homage that is warranted.

In anticipation of some interesting comments on the above, I wish all those involved with the IPKat “Godt Nytår” (or “Happy New Year” in Danish)".
The IPKat fancies a title with the words "intellectual asset" in it. After all, an intellectual property right in the hands of it owner is an asset, but so too is the content of the right in the hands of competitors, consumers and indeed anyone else.  Merpel fancies scrapping the word "intellectual" altogether. Perhaps "artificial, arbitrary and sometimes beneficial but always interesting rights in random intangibles" might just do the trick. But what do readers think?

Danish pastry recipes here
On giving, taking and the naming of IP courses On giving, taking and the naming of IP courses Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, December 29, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. As a young graduate student myself, "Intangible Business Assets" sounds cool :-) close to IPKat's though.

  2. Maybe it's just me, but I think the idea of "rights" sums up the situation best. You have the *right* to *stop other people* from making your invention. Or to stop them from using the name you've registered, or to stop them copying your poem, etc. This seems to me clearer than saying that they have an obligation not to make the invention. Particularly as the patent holder can decide whether or not to allow it - the ball is in his court.

    I'd have thought the harder bit to explain is how, having introduced IPRs generally as the right to stop people copying something, you then have to explain that copyright stops them actually copying whereas you can enforce a patent against someone who didn't copy you at all but simply came up with the same idea a bit later than you did...

  3. As to whether it should be IP or IPR, see the IP Draughts survey, earlier this year -

  4. Very nice description. However, IPOs - to me are -- associated with Intellectual Property Organizations. The abbreviation "O" is always linked with Organization. Furthermore, as a former student of IP law, I got used to IPRs (Intellectual Property Rights).

  5. IPRs are rights that an IP owner has to be able to prevent others. They are not obliged to prevent others. The obligation comes from the third party to not infringe, which cannot be owned as such.

  6. Further to Anon 8:16, there is no specific obligation created on an IPR holder, or on any third party, only a specific right to prevent or impede any other party, at the owner's election, from using the IP, and to obtain compensation from their past uses.

    Infringement with consent is no infringement. The right in IPRs is thus the dual right to grant consent and to act against those who use the IP without consent.

    Perhaps IPER might be better: IP Exclusion Rights. But then, there are only so many acronyms, and IPER is already taken by WIPO.

  7. As Kingsley, I also use Intangible Assets terminology when talking to non-lawyers. Businesspeople are more responsive to "assets" than to "rights" and it catches their attention better. Also, when the "rights" elements of IP assets are emphasized then the whole IP portfolio ends up being managed by a law department, rather than by the business management as it would be fit for strategic assets, which IPRs truly are!

  8. Surely it has to include Lego in the title as the best known of IPRs coming out of Denmark.

    Perhaps "Building Businesses the Lego way"

    (added fun if Lego sue for use of the TM)

  9. -- I was thinking of the reality of obtaining the "Intellectual Property Rights" (when I studied, they were Industrial Property Rights"). Could the process and the result in all the rights you have to register for be termed "Staking Your Claim", the old-fashioned way of winning the West, still used in mineral prospecting?

    That is what you do, and those jurisdictions that provide examination to avoid the worst blunders of registration then try to cut these claims down to size.

    So, giving your courses a bit of Wild West spirit will perhaps sugar the pill for your students.

    Happy new year,

    George Brock-Nannestad


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