Mark Laudi
Jun 10, 2021

How creatives can safeguard their ideas

Creatives often fall victim to idea theft, especially during pitches. That's why proper IP protection that places a fiscal value on creative assets is vital, argues the MD of PitchMark.

How creatives can safeguard their ideas

Intellectual property (IP) and its protection is a subject every agency and creative is intimately familiar with—often, even frustratingly so.

Speak to anyone at a creative agency and they will have at least one horror story to tell. It’s a tale as old as time itself: they spent precious time on ideas to pitch to potential clients, only to not just have those ideas rejected but later find out they have been used and published elsewhere without their permission, any due credit given, or—perhaps worst of all—any money paid.

Often, these stolen ideas are passed off to in-house employees to be used in ad campaigns and other such projects, so the culprit does not have to pay external parties for their hard work.

This infringement of IP rights could happen to anyone in a creative field—designers, writers, even architects. Without proper IP protection and the fundamental safeguarding of ideas and brands, businesses and innovators often fall victim to idea theft, especially during pitches.

Needless to say, anyone who has experienced this would like a fool-proof way to prevent this from happening again, not just to themselves but to creatives in general.

In today’s increasingly knowledge-based economy, IP has become practically indispensable, with content forming the lifeblood for creatives and providing the key to a positive P&L. It follows then that IP protection, which safeguards vital business assets from being stolen by outsiders, opens doors for continuous innovation and places a fiscal value on creative assets.

Problems with protection

The problem with IP protection is that it can be tricky to successfully execute, as IP is intangible and ideas alone cannot be protected. What can be protected, however, is the written expression of an idea, so it resides in the actual plans sent as a pitch.

Another problem involves common misconceptions about IP protection: namely, that it is too expensive and difficult to secure, that ideas cannot be patented, and that IP protects mainly big market players. This leads to agencies and creatives putting IP protection on the backburner and only realising too late the need for it.

At the recent World IP Day 2021, these misconceptions were challenged, and the notion that IP protection of SMEs and creative individuals is necessary for a more competitive and resilient business landscape was reinforced. With the theme “IP and SMEs: Taking your ideas to market”, the event promoted the importance of educating SMEs about the fundamentals of their IP rights.

A private and public affair

IP protection is so critical to business success that even the Singapore government has recognised and highlighted it with the Singapore IP Strategy 2030, an initiative designed to support businesses with increased access to IP services for their intangible assets (IA).

Many of these solutions are web-based and provide quick and effective IP protection; the idea is to equip SMEs with the required tools to defend themselves against unscrupulous practices by MNCs that may well participate in idea theft.

Unbeknownst to many, copyright is governed by the Copyright Act in Singapore, and it automatically applies to works that qualify for protection. Creatives and SMEs are free to license their copyright to third parties and clients through various agreements without the need to file for registration to receive copyright protection. It is thus vital for creators to familiarise themselves with readily available solutions that can enable them to efficiently protect their work.

Such solutions allow agencies and creatives to upload their documents or assets, and obtain certificates with unique serial numbers, representing proof of the dates and times on which their concepts, ideas or proposals were uploaded.

For creators:

  • These certificates provide irrefutable proof of ownership of their work.
  • These certificates can be included with their work, so clients can easily authenticate and access the assets.
  • In the event of potential disputes involving the unlawful use of assets, web-based solutions can support agencies and creatives with registered legal counsel partners to help pursue legal claims.

This way, agencies and creatives can not only safeguard their work even after a pitch, but reap the benefits of their labour.

A two-sided equation

While creatives often get the short end of the stick when it comes to pitches and IP protection, clients also face challenges on the receiving end. They may already be working on ideas similar to those an agency pitches to them, or receive pitches from separate agencies that contain similar elements.

Client-side marketers can pledge to respect their suppliers’ IP rights, and commit to communicating their intentions with innovators in a clear, transparent manner about who actually owns the IP rights to any pitch or asset, should there be disputes.

This will give them the dual advantage of accessing original concepts during pitches from participating agencies, and give creators the peace of mind to present their best work to potential clients. Having such an understanding in turn fosters mutual trust and goodwill that only serves to strengthen professional relationships between clients and creatives.

Mark Laudi is a managing partner at PitchMark, a Singapore-based platform in which creatives can register their pitches to protect their work from IP theft, and clients can sign a pledge to show their commitment to respect the IP of creators.

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