The Conflicting World of Intellectual Property by Christopher Maione

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Within the AV industry there are all sorts of claims, patents, and copyrights to what is deemed “intellectual property” – but who really owns what?

When it comes to equipment and/or hardware and software technologies a manufacturer can apply for a patent to protect another company from “copying” their product or technology. Patents are governed by the US Patent Office (and similar authorities internationally).

But let’s take a look at non-equipment items within AV, such as:
- AV consultant or system integrator's drawings
- Control system programming (source code)

Consultants and System Integrators typically include a copyright symbol © on their drawings and specifications, along with a statement that says something like: “This drawing and the associated specifications are specific to this project and are not to be used for any other project.” A humble attempt at trying to prevent AV drawings and specifications from being “copied” for other similar or in many instances identical projects.

The same goes for control system programming and source code. These items could in fact be easily copied and re-used on other projects. On most projects AV consultants and system integrators are required to provide their drawings and specifications in the native drawing (.dwg) and word processor (.doc) formats, making them easily editable for reuse.

From a client's perspective, they feel they have paid for the design, and in doing so, the drawings and specifications are their property as well to do with as they choose. Contractual language making this VERY clear can be found in any corporate contract or purchase order. In essence, the end-user client's contractual purchase order trumps any AV consultant's or system integrator's “copyrights.”

Hence the conflict. What AV consultant or system integrator would dare try to enforce a copyright claim by suing their end user client? Who would want to fight the wrath of a large law firm with near unlimited resources (and billable time)?

So on paper, it would appear the client has the upper hand, at least from a legal perspective. However, I would hope clients consider the ethical implications of this situation and realize AV consultants and system integrators provide drawings and specifications which ARE project specific (except when specifically being paid to develop “standards” or “template” projects). In addition, I would hope clients would recognize the value added by the consultant or system integrator in being part of the project, and how their involvement in the project is what contributes to the success.

As an industry, we have to do a better job of showing what our value to the process and involvement in the project means and what our "intellectual property" is worth. Perhaps we begin to educate clients as part of our initial efforts on how setting AV / IT standards can benefit them and the value in having us provide this type of template or in building this standard. Maybe it is a matter of making sure that they understand the ownership of the "property" and that there is a "license" of sorts that you are giving or granting them for its use by project.

To support this line of thinking, your client relationship needs to be built upon a solid foundation, one where both parties (Consultant / System Integrator and Client) understand the importance of working together to create a stronger team that can incorporate the best technologies and products to meet the unique needs of the client for the ultimate success of the project.

All too frequently, AV consultants and system integrators let this relationship take a back seat to project details and logistics. In the short run, the attention to this may get you through the project, but will hurt your chance at creating and maintaining a more sustainable and value driven relationship with your client. You need to do both so that discussions including those about who owns the rights to "intellectual property" remain unspoken.

Christopher Maione, CTS-D, is president of Christopher Maione Associates, a firm specializing in all aspects of AV business, technologies, and marketing strategy. He also serves as an Infocomm Adjunct Faculty member and frequent speaker at global AV industry events. Reach him at cmaione@chrismaione.com.

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