This is an article I wrote detailing the lack of Intellectual Property creativity in the film industry.
Discovering Intellectual Property Behind the Camera
The film industry is a business sector that is well acquainted with protection of intellectual property (IP). Unfortunately, that protection has historically focused on digital media rights, trademarks, and copyright and has overlooked the numerous other aspects of IP that offer potentially lucrative outcomes.
Having worked on several movies and seen firsthand the inventive and creative processes of not only the actors, but the crew on the set, I can say with some authority that there are inventions, trade secrets, and processes that are passing in and out of the soundstage door on every movie being made.
Even months before the first frames of “film” are shot (very few studios actually use real film these days; most film digitally), as well as throughout shooting, dozens of people are working in the background setting up the soundstage or location shots. In addition, there are people creating storyboards, costumes, and music. All of these skilled craftspeople, regardless of their title (be it Camera Operator, Construction Coordinator, Gaffer, or Costume Designer) are presented with unique challenges to meet the needs of the movie and the director’s vision of the script.
As the old adage goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” And given some of the challenges presented by creating an entertaining film, there is a great deal of need for invention in this process. While there are tried and true methods of filmcraft, as any industry, the unique challenges presented by making the words on a page come to life are unlike those of any other job. Let’s pretend for a moment you are given this piece of script:
1 Exterior Overhead Shot – Old Western City
A non-descript city circa 1845. We can see activity in the streets. Horses and people move about. The sunlight is not like anything on Earth.
Suddenly an explosion destroys one of the buildings; a chunk of iron flies towards the camera.
The task before you is daunting: Do you shoot this as a full city-sized mock-up, as a miniature model, or perhaps all as computer graphics? How do you get the metal to fly at the camera? How do you protect the camera? What sort of chemical mixture will you use for the explosion? What kind of lens filter should be used to create the sunlight?
Through that process of identifying and executing your task, comes invention. Perhaps you shoot the scene in miniature and insert the horses and people using computer graphics - all standard movie-making stuff. But perhaps you take a different approach to create the filter for the sunlight. Perhaps you go into your kitchen, grab some plastic wrap, color it with your kids’ finger paint, smear some oil on it, hang it from a bent coat hanger, and make sure the distance is exactly 4.5 inches from the camera lens. You very well may have just created a new type of lens filter and a new process for using such a filter; something you could recreate, sell, or license, and if the movie performed poorly at the box office, perhaps actually make more money from this lens filter invention than from the movie itself.
Sadly, such inventions are created all the time on movie sets, but given the massive time constraints on a film set and the crew’s lack of understanding of the invention process, such inventions are usually discarded after one use, or kept solely by the creator and never brought to market.
Movie studios, and even more specifically executive producers, need to be aware of the income potential from inventions being created by the crew on their film shoots. Creating a patent portfolio of techniques, structures, compositions, and devices could create a completely new stream of income to the studio through sale and/or licensing of IP.
There needs to be a way to capture on-set innovations created on the fly and bring them to the attention of someone specifically tasked with gathering and protecting these unique ideas. Even a basic one-paragraph description of the invention accompanied by some photographs (there should be plenty of cameras around…) should be sufficient for said person to bring to the studio in order to expand on the inventions and have proper invention disclosures created, or have any new trade secrets documented.
An Intellectual Property consulting company such as ipCapital Group (www.ipcg.com) , based in Williston Vermont, can be an exceptional asset to this process, whether through on-set participation as the point person for IP “harvesting,” or by helping to sort through the copious amounts of data being generated. ipCG has done this in other “IP-naïve” industries and can help anyone through the process.
I imagine once this neglected revenue stream is focused upon by one studio, then, just like other forms of IP already used in the industry (e.g. copyrights), all the studios will aggressively put in place processes for harvesting IP. The first studio to embrace the new culture of “IP on set, all the time” will be in a much stronger position within the entertainment industry than its competitors.