However, intellectual property (IP) law doesn’t protect ideas. This means that idea originators, including design and other creative professionals, are extremely vulnerable in the pre-contract stages. Creative Barcode, the world’s first open-protection system, is set to change that.

“The ultimate aim and purpose of Creative Barcode is that it seeks to override the perception that ‘all ideas’ should be free to use, re-use or re-mix without the permission of the originator,” says Maxine Horn, CEO of Creative Barcode.

Before launching Creative Barcode in September 2010, Horn had been running British Design Innovation (BDI), a UK trade association for designers and innovators, which she founded in 1993. During her 17 years as CEO, she had moved designers closer to the collaborative innovation space and pioneered initiatives including the Open Innovation Challenge, the University Design Industry Partnership, as well as Shared Risk and Reward.

Her idea for Creative Barcode came about after having recognised that many SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and freelancers, who operate on a fee-for-services basis as well as generate their own IP-based concepts, are exceptionally vulnerable during new business activities when the disclosure of in-depth proposals is necessary.

There needed to be a mutually beneficial trust agreement that would enable safe disclosure for creators and those who seek to engage them.

“In mid-2009 I reviewed the opportunities and threats of open innovation and took a 360-degree view of idea generation and the commercialisation journey from the perspective of all parties involved. That included idea generators, route to market partners, investors, lawyers, academics, government and non-government intermediaries,” explains Horn.

A key issue highlighted and often misunderstood is that as we enter a new era of open innovation and crowd sourcing, the IP rights framework does not protect ideas alone.

In context of design, copyright only protects visual aesthetics, not the core idea articulated, and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), if you can get one signed, do not actually record what has been disclosed.

“For good reason, such as monopoly, the IP system does not protect ‘ideas’ alone, but neither does it differentiate between notional unarticulated ideas of little value and the solution-led, fully articulated and knowledge-based ideas of the creative industries, SME industry and academic sectors,” says Horn.

It is often stated that ideas have no value until they are commercialised. This implies that only the commercialisation parties deserve to benefit from the commercial success, while originators receive, at best, PR and publicity.

“If the originator’s contribution is merely contained to an unarticulated, notional idea then PR might be reward enough. However, if the originator’s contribution was the spotting of a new market opportunity and the development of an articulated blueprint, then reward must be more equitable,” argues Horn.

“If it is not, then what motivation remains for idea generators to participate in government, corporate or university open-innovation activities?”

So, Horn’s solution was to create an ‘open-protection’ system that would uphold the value of knowledge and creativity in the innovation process.

This solution would be in the form of a software application that enables users to generate a barcode and apply it to their creative concepts and proposals before disclosing them to third parties.

So, she worked out what skills would be needed to develop the right solution from a technical, engineering and design viewpoint and brought together a team that would help her create a system that was easy to use and understand.

“Creative Barcode needed my full attention, therefore the time was right for me to leave BDI to start a new journey. And just as well I did as from the moment of launch, Creative Barcode gained mass attention. It achieved 2167 media mentions in just 14 days. We had obviously struck a chord with the media, legal sector and creative industries worldwide,” says Horn.

The Creative Barcode application enables users to generate digital barcodes and allocate them to their concept work, whether that is a detailed written proposal, concept visuals, video, photographic images or illustrations.

Each unique barcode identifies date of creation, creation source, ownership and permission-based usage only. It is underpinned by a Trust Charter agreement between the originator and any third party before disclosure.

In this agreement the originator indemnifies the recipient organisation by way of the barcoded concepts being their original works and on that basis the recipient party agrees not to disclose or utilise any of the disclosed concepts without the originator’s permission. Importantly, this includes the core idea inherent in the works articulated in proposals and visuals.

For maximum security, barcoded files can be delivered through Creative Barcode’s file transfer system, which records date sent, to whom, check box acceptance of the Trust Charter and download date.

As the barcode identifies original source, it not only protects the originators from any later challenge arising, but also the file recipient.

Additionally, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Arbitration and Mediation Centre will provide its mediation service for Creative Barcode members operating under the Trust Charter Agreement, who allege that their disclosed concept has been utilised without permission.

“This gives our members a comfort blanket,” says Horn. “The terms of the Trust Charter form a contractual ‘agreement’ between the parties, therefore any dispute arising does not become a long, drawn-out – and often weak – breach of copyright. It is simply a breach of agreement. WIPO seeks to then mediate between the parties to avoid costly litigation.”

As well as easy to use, Horn also wanted Creative Barcode to be accessible to both freelance operatives up to the largest companies worldwide to achieve critical mass and a new ethical trading standard.

Therefore, annual membership is just £30/US$47 (+VAT). “It is simply the best and most affordable safe disclosure and IP management system for creative industries and brand owners worldwide. There is no complex and time-consuming paperwork, just barcode it and share it,” says Horn.

Since launch, feedback has been very favourable. Creative Barcode has featured widely in the media and the legal profession has been very supportive too.

“Brand owners have not expressed any negative issues regards idea generators using Creative Barcode and the Trust Charter. In fact, they welcome it as a best practice IP Management system that equally protects their interests,” comments Horn.

“A few corporates have signed the public Trust Charter although most wish to be less public and treat each approach on a case-by-case basis.”

Creative Barcode’s international membership is growing and together with industrial design firms it has seen branding and advertising agencies, writers, architects, film script producers, publishers, engineers and inventors sign up from East and West Europe, USA and Latin America.

These early adopters are testing the water and in-use case studies will be available soon.

One design agency that believes Creative Barcode will be incredibly useful to them is London-based design agency Priestman Goode. “In 2009 we launched Waterpebble – our own brainchild water-saving device designed, produced and brought to market by us.

"While we ensured that Waterpebble was protected at all stages of its development, Creative Barcode would have helped to protect it quickly in the early stages of the concept as well as on its journey to market to keep track of the product’s contact with supply-chain partners from design engineers through to manufacturers and sales distributors,” says Kirsty Dias, Priestman Goode’s business development director.

Similarly, Leslie Stokes, partner at UK product design consultancy LA Design, says: “Conventional methods for protecting IP can seriously slow up or sometimes completely obstruct the process of moving from great ideas to market-ready products. Creative Barcode will significantly help this process and also create better and more productive working relationships between all the parties concerned.”

Horn would ultimately like the IP policy for such creative firms to be that no pre-contract strategic proposal or visual concept should leave the building without its barcode.

“What the creative and academic sectors should consider is that Creative Barcode is their opportunity to drive a change in the way creativity and knowledge is valued in the innovation process and use it in a way that sets them apart from the crowdsourcing masses,” says Horn.

“Overall, the important issue is that the Creative Barcode open-protection system is a mechanism to enable safe and early disclosure, reduce vulnerability and, as such, lead to a more efficient and rewarding open innovation environment. It’s that simple.” 

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