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IUPUI Magazine

Technology Issue

Twenty-first century oil

Article by Diane Brown

IU School of Law-Indianapolis graduate Mary Jane Frisby: The big companies now are not the Standard Oils that Rockefeller founded. It’s Google, Amazon, AOL, Time Warner. Their assets are intellectual property assets.

Mary Jane Frisby and Kenneth Crews negotiate "deals" over "the oil of the 21st century."

Frisby, a 2000 graduate of the IU School of Law-Indianapolis, is an intellectual property attorney with the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg. Crews — also an attorney — teaches intellectual property law on the IUPUI campus and directs the law school's Copyright Management Center.

"Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century," Mark Getty, grandson of oil magnate J. Paul Getty, reportedly once said. "Look at the richest men a hundred years ago; they all made their money extracting natural resources or moving them around. All today’s richest men have made their money out of intellectual property."

New world emerging

This new world order has developed as our economy has transitioned from "a goods-based economy to an information-based economy," Frisby explains.

"Most workers now deal in information. They are not in a factory making widgets on the line," she says. "The typical American worker is sitting in front of a computer and creating information, creating this intangible stuff, these computer files, word documents. That is what we are all trafficking in."

"The big companies now are not the Standard Oils that Rockefeller founded. It’s Google, Amazon, AOL, Time Warner," she says. "Their assets are intellectual property assets."

"In here is every form of intellectual property, right here in a Coke can," says Frisby, picking up a can of the soft drink from a stash in a conference room at the Barnes & Thornburg Meridian Street office.

"You have a trademark, that’s ‘Coca-Cola.’ That’s the brand name of the product, and you’ve got all this text (list of ingredients).

It’s copyrighted because its textual work — and there are probably numerous patents covering perhaps the way to make this can or the way the bottle machine works when it puts (soft drink) in there and seals it up . . . and then of course, Coca-Cola is famous for having a trade-secret formula."

Protecting one's rights

Trademarks, patents and copyrights are the "big three" of intellectual property, with trade secrets and rights of publicity rounding out the territory, Frisby says.

Helping clients get, transfer or enforce rights associated with the ownership of such property is the stuff of Frisby’s career as an intellectual property attorney.

"Intellectual property is a form of personal property, just like real estate, your car or purse," says Frisby, who also earned her undergraduate degree at IUPUI, majoring in philosophy. "And with its ownership come legal rights, just like those you have in the land, car or purse you own.

"But unlike your car or your purse, (intellectual property) is intangible. You can’t hold it. And usually it is the product of someone’s intellect or creativity." While intellectual property itself isn’t tangible, copyrights and patents can bring money to their owners who sell or license them for use in pharmaceutical production, musical recordings, manufacturing, etc. And the fights over intellectual property make headlines:

Technology shaping new world

Technological advances are behind the proliferation of intellectual property disputes, says Crews.

"For example, take the use of technology in the classroom, creating web delivery systems of the content of the course — suddenly, because of what we’ve done differently — the use of the Internet to capture and transmit this content — we have stepped into the world of intellectual property," the professor says. "It’s not that intellectual property has come and found us; we’ve moved into its world. We can see much of the same thing going on with patents and trademarks as well."

Such changes across society have turned intellectual property law into a "growing, growing practice area," Frisby says.

Kenneth Crews is one of the foremost authorities on intellectual property at the IUPUI-based law school.

She has handled cases as diverse as a patent infringement case concerning a cremation urn and a copyright dispute over song lyrics.

Education is key

Educating her clients, one of the things she likes best about her job, is also one of her biggest challenges.

"It’s the big buzz word, to talk about everyone’s intellectual property, but you’d be amazed at how clients have not fully got their minds around this — they are sitting on an asset that they don’t know they have," Frisby says.

Crews agrees. "If you are big enough to grab a handful of crayons and scribble on the wall, you are a copyright owner." However, "some of us actually own copyrights that are worth paying attention to," the professor adds.

Under Crews’ direction, IUPU's Copyright Management Center manages issues associated with the creation of original works and the use of existing copyrighted works for teaching, research and service.

"IUPUI provides a broad mix of academic programs with a rich agenda for creative teaching and ambitious research," Crews says. A large part of what the Copyright Management Center does is to help faculty and others really understand how they can make good, well-informed decisions with respect to intellectual property, both the ownership and management of their new works as well as the proper use of existing materials."

When the Copyright Management Center originated at IUPUI in 1994, it was the first office of its kind at any college or university in the United States. Cornell University recently used an IUPUI Copyright Management Center checklist to set its campus guidelines for implementing fair use of copyrighted material. With Indiana’s emphasis on the life sciences, the patent is perhaps the "king" of intellectual property on a research campus, according to Frisby.

The IU Research and Technology Corporation, formerly known as ARTI, handles patent negotiations for IU researchers. "Good heavens, everything that the School of Engineering (& Technology), the School of Science, the School of Medicine is researching could be something that is patentable," Frisby says. "That is a very valuable asset."

Those assets can mean additional revenue for the university, but more importantly, an improved quality of life for all of us, she adds.