Designer Intellectual property

Your IP is a revenue stream

The move to digital files has changed the apparent value of our intellectual property. We need to reclaim it as a revenue stream.

In the pre-digital age designers could easily show the value of their IP in their presentations. Designers explained concepts using visuals that were hand drawn and rendered with felt pens. A client looking at this piece of ‘art’ could readily see the value the designer brought to the discussion.

It wasn’t because they could draw; it was because they could conceive a design direction and then explain it with their drawing skills.

That skill is still there in the photoshop and illustrator files that the designer prepares. The new skill is shown in the more complex behind the scenes parts of these programs. The problem is the client can’t see the complexity when looking at the finished image. Hence they place less value on it. There is also the ‘my 10 year old can do that in photoshop’ syndrome. The reality is given a well constructed, layered photoshop file the 10 year old probably could modify the file successfully. And there is the issue. The IP the designer has invested in constructing the file does make it more usable (valuable) to the client.

The designers’ IP makes the file:

workable (it can be reproduced in the appropriate publishing medium to an industry standard)
efficient (it uses the most direct methods to make the file workable)
manageable (it can be easily changed as needs arise)

The skill to do this takes years of practice. Once accomplished it makes profit for the designer because they can produce the files quickly and modify them quickly. The IP has commercial value for the designer and, if purchased, for the client. Marketing graduates are now expected to have basic experience in the Adobe suite. A business that purchases a designers files can save money by doing further changes in-house. This is happening now.

This is a trend that will increase and designers need to accept it.

However they need to also charge for their intellectual property.

Designers give away IP

When we talk to designers about giving away the IP in their files we get the following responses:
I hand over files because I don’t want to lose the work
I can’t refuse to handover files because I might get cut out of new work
Clients always rip me off so I just accept it
I don’t want to complain because I may lose clients
I give the files to good clients.

Government departments are the worst offenders. Like other states the Victorian Government is arguably the largest single buyer of design services. This is also true at a federal level.

The Victorian Governments’ Agreement for the provision of Marketing Services (the contract that covers design services) gives extensive rights over a designers intellectual property. If the purchaser decides it wants their IP:

  • The Service Provider grants, and the Purchaser accepts, a Licence over:
    • the Project Intellectual Property not owned by the Purchaser;
    • the Background Intellectual Property; and
    • any Intellectual Property of a third party, if any, to the extent needed to allow the Purchaser to enjoy the full benefit of the Services and the
  • At the request of the Purchaser, the Service Provider will provide the Purchaser with copies of all Licensed materials and Intellectual Property and in a way that allows the Purchaser to exercise the Purchaser’s rights under the licence.

So what!

This contract appears to be unconscionable. The government knows, or should know, designers won’t fight back because of the type of thinking expressed above. The imbalance between a small studio and government should be considered by the government but isn’t. They trade off this and act in a way to reduce the revenue of design firms. Complain and they will send in the lawyers as shown in this article.

I would welcome contact from anyone who has signed a similar contract either with a government body or a commercial enterprise.

Greg Branson

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Want more?

These articles talk more about working in the creative industry:

1 Does a designer have to hand over source files
2 Why designers don’t give up source files
3 Why and what to charge for source design files

About Greg

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.
Greg has developed a series of processes and tools to help designers manage their business better along with a Businerss of Design Short Course that help designers rethink their business.

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