x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

It takes input from others to make our dreams into reality

Protecting intellectual property may be worthwhile, but I believe that protecting a business idea or concept is not. It may even hinder your project at its start-up.

Fashion designers often replicate designs made by others. Above, a reflection of a mannequin in abaya. Lee Hoagland / The National
Fashion designers often replicate designs made by others. Above, a reflection of a mannequin in abaya. Lee Hoagland / The National

One of the many complaints I hear from local fashion designers, is their frustration with others who imitate their work. It is not strange for a fashion designer to come up with a new abaya design - the traditional black female cloak - before they spot it on display in almost every abaya store, sometimes with slight alterations to the design. Often it is a pure case of "cut and paste".

In other instances, many would-be entrepreneurs fear sharing their business idea or concept with those around them in case someone steals that idea and implements it. More than often, many would launch their business, be it a restaurant or a service centre, without consulting financial advisers and even their friends, when in fact the feedback could have helped them. All so that no one runs off with their idea.

Young entrepreneurs agree that it is necessary to protect their business concept before they even start building it to guarantee it does not get stolen.

In general, I believe that business ideas on their own have no value, and that it isn't worth anyone's time to actually protect it. This notion often provokes disagreement among my friends. Their main quibble originates from a misunderstanding of when an idea needs protection.

A friend of mine argued that if an idea, be it an intellectual idea for a book or a technological concept, was really worthless then why did I protect the rights of my university master's degree dissertation, or why do some writers copyright their work? The answer is simple. I did not protect the initial idea of my dissertation, but the final work product.

I did not try to copyright the original idea for a dissertation that discussed Emiratisation and the solutions to enhance this policy. The reality is that I would not have been able to do so because the concept "Emiratisation" is not mine to begin with.

In addition, I did not keep the idea of the dissertation topic a secret for fear that someone else might steal my idea. I shared it with many people - professors, students and friends - to get feedback on it and suggestions on how to enhance it. I had individuals, some paid, some just helping, review my early drafts to ensure I delivered an excellent research paper.

Only after writing my 12,000-plus words then revising, editing and packaging it into a final dissertation paper did I seek protection from my university. Again I was not protecting the idea, but my final work.

If you create something of value - say, a technological device - and the cost of protecting it makes sense in relation to the amount of profit you will generate, then go ahead and protect it. It is always important to keep in mind the difference between protecting a business concept and an enhancement to your product that you have worked for years to perfect.

Allow me to illustrate. Say that Yahoo came up with an idea to enhance its search engine so that it would be capable of searching for something based on a sound input, such as a chorus from a song that you want to know the name of. That concept is an idea, and it does not need protection.

Then let's say that Yahoo spends time and capital and invests in a team of technological experts to develop this concept and implement it into its website. This is now no longer a concept, but a final product that needs protection.

Copyrights, trademarks and other forms of intellectual property are all important and give entrepreneurs and innovators the confidence to invest their efforts and time in innovation. But then again, it comes down to execution and not ideas. Your idea for a horror movie is not something to protect - but your script and final movie are. Your idea for a flying car might be challenged, but once you invent that car, then you definitely want to patent your idea.

Protecting intellectual property may be worthwhile, but I believe that protecting a business idea or concept is not. It may even hinder your project at its start-up.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and fashion designer based in Abu Dhabi