After celebrating WIPO Day 2023 and its Women & IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity, we reflect on the importance of leveraging diverse perspectives from underrepresented communities to build a better, more inclusive IP system. We believe this starts with grassroots education and unique thought leadership.
To help us with this reflection, we look to Michelson IP’s new Senior Program Manager Chinwe Ohanele. Chinwe comes to us as a JD with a degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Her litigation experience in Business and Contract Law coupled with a deep interest and focus on Intellectual Property Law led her to the entrepreneurial pursuit of opening her own shop, Ohanele Law Firm. There she and her team support “purpose-driven creators and entrepreneurs with business and intellectual property legal services”. She’s also recently joined USC Gould Law as an adjunct professor. But importantly and most relevant to this article, Chinwe is an avid writer and content creator. Her Substack newsletter, The Content Biz discusses the impact content and creativity has on industry and culture.
In “Digital Colonialism: Intellectual Property, Global Content Creation and the Politics of Ownership”, she deconstructs our understanding of current IP laws and highlights how they may unknowingly hinder creators from underserved communities in their endeavors:
Intellectual Property is a construct built on exclusivity. It’s three pillars—copyright, trademark, and patent—allow an individual or company to exploit their creative work or innovation however they want. These same rights are the owners’ to enforce in the face of the violation, no matter who the violator and no matter the reason. These are powerful constructs that check the free use people may have with certain words, images, phrases, products, and formulas.
Copyrights protect the creative output of authors– such as music composers, writers, and choreographers. Patents provide legal protection to inventors of useful stuff. Trademark law prohibits the unauthorized use of a valid trademark by others, especially when that usage is likely to cause consumer confusion in the marketplace.
In other countries, there is a fourth right called the Moral right. Moral rights allow creators to preserve their connection to their creative work throughout their life. That means that you cannot see the creative work anywhere without attribution to the original author. Moral rights apply to literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, as well as to films. That being said, the U.S. does not recognize Moral rights.
In the U.S., to own a copyright, patent, or trademark, the creators would seek out an Intellectual Property attorney to file an application on their behalf and submit it to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Now, most people in the Black community have come to associate lawyers with problems. They only go looking for a lawyer when they need help with solving a problem. With more Black people entering entrepreneurship, the reasons for seeking out a lawyer are changing: they may seek out a lawyer to prevent problems unread. For example, a good lawyer would help prepare business formation documents. However, copyright, trademark, and patents are still less likely to bring us to a lawyer’s office.
Welcome to the team Chinwe!
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.