In the same week it emerged the pop singer Taylor Swift is attempting to copyright everyday phrases she just happened to have incorporated into the lyrics of some of her songs, the media shared the news that Nokia has issued a cease and desist notice against a London start-up over their use of the word “here”.

I don’t think any of us have a problem with the principle of copyright protection (Although, I was talking to an inventor this week who said that it was pointless taking patents out on products these days because they were all just combinations of technologies or concepts that are already known, so copyright enforcement was often impossible.) but does it make any sense for Miss Swift to literally claim ownership of the English language?

I’ll admit to some sympathy with the notion that she might inadvertently or otherwise, create a catch-phrase that may prove useful in promoting product, but should the product manufacturer pay her for so doing? It’s a question that I believe we are going to increasingly encounter.

Without a doubt pop songs throw up catch phrases that advertisers have adopted and profited from for as long as I can remember, but surely that’s just the way things go – Gangnam Style! We should also acknowledge that the advent of the Internet has thrown many entertainers onto hard times. Some of them don’t know where the next million is coming from, so you can understand that they are keen to monetise anything they can. There’s also just plain greed. Everyone is looking to make a fast buck and it usually makes no matter to them if it’s at someone else’s expense. The fact that we live in litigious times only makes this easier. If you can make a fast buck without actually doing anything that’s even better! The main reason for all of this though is that innovation is rarely unique. It’s just a race and it’s hotting up. Last month two people in separate conversations on two distant continents brought me start-ups that were working completely independently and unknown to each other on the same idea. Meanwhile the Brazilian team that developed the brain/machine interface and built it into the exoskeleton that enabled a paraplegic to kick-off the World Cup this year have been trumped by a European team who have taken the same technology to a new level by mind-merging two people on different continents.

Although our sensationalist press seemed to be trying to manufacture a David and Goliath story from the incident, I have more sympathy with Nokia’s objection to the decision by London start-up Lowdownapp to call their their location-based service “Here” than I do Taylor Swift’s claim. Nokia feels Lowdown were hitting below the belt by using the £8million Nokia had invested in promoting their mapping service with the same name as a springboard to fame. They may be right, but I can’t see that having the same name as another product in an adjacent technology is a good idea anyway. Isn’t it part of the growing-up process that all start-ups must go through, to learn to live with mistakes like the one Lowdownapp seem to have made here?

Phil Darby
February 2, 2015

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