As we become more aware of the importance of intellectual property (IP) in our creative industries, it’s common to see discussions about protecting our inventions, designs, and artistic works. We use words like copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secret to describe legal mechanisms that safeguard our exclusive rights over these intangible assets.
However, not all creations or innovations can be protected by IP law. Some things we make or discover are not original enough, not inventive enough, or not distinctive enough to qualify for legal protection. Others may fall outside the scope of IP law altogether, such as natural phenomena, mathematical formulae, or cultural traditions.
The question then arises: what do we call these non-IP creations? Is there a collective term that encompasses everything we produce or generate that does not receive intellectual property protection?
Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a widely accepted term for this category of creativity. Some people use the phrase “public domain” to refer to works that are not covered by IP rights because they have fallen into the free use after their term of protection has expired or because they were never eligible in the first place. However, this expression is limited to works that were previously subject to IP protection and does not cover the full range of non-IP creations.
Others may refer to these creations as “commons” to highlight their shared ownership or accessibility. The commons traditionally refers to resources that are held in common by a community and managed according to collective rules and norms. In this sense, non-IP creations could be seen as part of a common pool of knowledge or culture that belongs to everyone.
Finally, some may use the term “open” to describe non-IP creations that are freely available and modifiable by anyone. This term is often associated with open-source software or open educational resources, which are designed to be collaborative and transparent. However, it can also apply to other forms of non-IP creativity that are not subject to legal restrictions.
In conclusion, while there is no one-size-fits-all label for non-IP creations, we can draw on existing concepts and frameworks to describe them. Whether we call them public domain, commons, or open, we must recognize that these creations are an essential part of our cultural, scientific, and social heritage. By acknowledging their value and potential, we can better understand how to foster innovation and creativity in a world where IP rights are only one piece of the puzzle.