UX+Design and IP: Is there something to it?

User Experience or UX, that is the field dealing in human interaction with technology incorporates a substantial understanding of design processes, data management, methods of information access and storage. Needless to say, intellectual Property or IP assumes critical importance in discussions on UX, but many entrepreneurs and scholars argue that IP needs to become more of a concern to UX designers and programmers. Here’s why.

(This post is inspired by some of the discussions at the UX-INDIA 2013 conference held in Bangalore recently, where Artistik License had an opportunity to discuss the importance of legal knowledge both as a tool of empowerment to designers, as well as an ingredient to enrich the creative process.)

This photo was taken by the author of this blog
This photo was taken by the author of this blog

 

How does UX and IP really tie in together?

The connection is actually quite an obvious one. On a very basic level, UX is really a bunch of ideas, strategies and proposals, and we understand that ideas or rather their expression in the form of strategies, designs, models and so on can be called Intellectual Property.

At the same time companies and entrepreneurs view these ideas and strategies as important commercial assets. Companies like Apple invest heavily in UX, and also earn a great deal of profits in exchange for their investment in developing UX for their products and devices. So protecting UX as a form of intellectual property is not just convenient, but a necessity for businesses.

 

 

What kind of IP are we talking about here? Just patents?

It’s easy to think that UX largely concerns itself with Patent law and no other form of intellectual property, however this is far from the truth. UX does not have to be exclusively protected by Patents but can also be covered by a range of other Intellectual Property Rights, including Copyright and Trademark. As always, various forms of intellectual property rights protect various aspects of a product and so choosing the right kind of protection largely depends on the product’s feature, which in turn also depends on the manner in which that aspect is being used.

 

So what you’re saying is that we need a more inclusive approach to IP in the understanding of UX?

Charles Mauro, President of Mauro New Media had reportedly stated in the context of the infamous Apple-Samsung dispute, that it was not any individual design patent, utility patent or trademark that was at stake, but the entire collection of Apple’s intellectual property which collectively contributed to the total user experience of Apple’s products. Mauro is one of the many advocates of a more inclusive approach to intellectual property in the realm of UX. According to him the traditional emphasis on individual design elements in UX need to give way to a creative-business approach that focuses on using all the intellectual property rights available, in an effort to more comprehensively and efficiently protect any UX model.

 

So as an entrepreneur or designer, what do I need to remember about UX and IP?

What you need to remember is that the two have to go hand in hand, if you’re hoping for an effective and enriched creative process. The knowledge of knowing how to protect aspects a UX model, or of recognizing the boundaries beyond which elements from one UX model cannot be assimilated into another model is something all companies need to emphasize while training their employees and designers. Very simply put, understanding IP ensures that you as a designer or entrepreneur know how to protect your UX model, while making sure that you haven’t inadvertently copied or violated someone else’s rights. The idea behind understanding how IP plays a role in the UX creative process is empowering in that it makes sure that the designer or entrepreneur has the ability to make an informed choice – a choice between the cost of infringement and the value of a particular UX model to the public. If you have more questions about how the law can help with UX, or better yet, if you have some inputs to share, then do leave a comment or get in touch.

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