Intellectual property can be a difficult topic for students to grasp. For educators looking for useful tips and tricks to teach IP to their students, incorporating pop culture and media examples can serve as a valuable tool of discussion in the classroom. Clips such as this one from the talk show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver featuring the reality show Shark Tank–where the “sharks” are apparently big fans of patents–are prime candidates for this approach.
Incorporating Pop Culture Examples to Teach IP
. According to Arpan Banerjee in “A Primer on Intellectual Property and Popular Culture Research” for the Handbook on Intellectual Property Research journal, pop culture can be defined as works:
“…contemporary enough to fall within the existing period of copyright protection (plus the author’s lifetime) [and] through well-known trademarks, such as the Playboy Bunny or Ronald McDonald.”
Once you’ve decided to introduce the basics of intellectual property into your course with help from free online resources, pop culture and examples from the media can be a great way for students to become better connected to hot topics in IP.
Tips to Get Started
Start by using the ‘News’ section of Google Search and typing in any form of IP in the search bar. For example, searching “trademark” got hits for stories including Facebook (now Meta) and their trademarks in the metaverse, Google aiming for a “Non-Fungible Planet”, an infringement case involving Barstool Purdue, some superstar wrestling, and Pikachu. All on the first page of results. Google Trends also can give you a birds’ eyes view of what the world is searching for in relation to any topic you choose.
Don’t have time to spend internet browsing? Michelson IP curates a monthly list of intellectual property related news and popular culture on all things patents, copyright, trademarks, and the like. Try tying any of these news clips and headlines to existing discussion questions or presentation slides on various aspects of IP and prompt students to get their thoughts or pose counter questions in either a live setting or in virtual breakout sessions and discussion boards.
These tips can help to introduce intellectual property as a broad real world subject that anyone can learn about–not just law students or lawyers.
To send you off on the right foot, below are some well-known examples of works in industry, media and pop culture that you can use to teach IP and engage your students.
Mickey Mouse Copyright
One of the most popular examples of copyright protection right now is the Mickey Mouse copyright. Not only is Disney one of the most popular names in the entertainment industry today, their household mascot has copyright protection that is about to expire and become part of the public domain. Learn more about public domain and what it means here.
The iPhone Patent
The most world-changing invention of the 21st century may be something that all young people carry in their pockets today: their smartphone. And it is arguably one of the most important patents filed of all time. Patents in general are an important aspect of Big Tech and in the new Web3/digital asset age companies such as IBM have even begun turning their patents into NFTs.
Pop-Star Trademarked Names & Music Copyrights
Many celebrities have succeeded in trademarking their names and even the names of their children. These include Beyonce–who won the legal battle over her Blue Ivy Carter trademark, Justin Bieber, and more. Pop star Taylor Swift’s decision to re-record some of her most iconic songs in order to retain her copyright ownership from her previous record label was seen as a notable “masterclass in contract law and artists’ rights” by many in the industry.
The McDonalds Big Mac Special Sauce Trade Secret
Trade secrets can be used to keep a number of things secret. One of the most popular instances in which this was utilized was for the McDonald’s Big Mac Special Sauce. In various industries, companies may opt for maintaining a product of their brand as a trade secret over a patent. In economic policy, this type of IP also often comes up in legislation on noncompete agreements for workers, which big businesses say “are vital for protecting trade secrets and investments”.
Further Reading Related to ‘Incorporate Pop Culture & Media into Teaching IP’
The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, provides access to empowering IP education for budding inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson. To learn more, visit 20mm.org.