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Explaining Intellectual Property to my 6 year Old

I work from home, so my son doesn’t get to see me go to an office/hospital/circus tent to do my job. When I overheard him explain to a friend that “Mummy Googles shoes at work” I thought it was time to try and set the record straight.

Here’s how it went…

Working mum holding child at her desk

My son: So what do you do Mummy?
Me: I help people find the intellectual property in their business, and protect it from getting stolen.
My son: A bit like when I take my lunchbox into school, and it has my name on it in Sharpie so everyone knows it’s mine and no one else tries to eat it?
Me: Yes, like that. But there are other things that can be your intellectual property too, like a poem that you wrote or your idea for a game in the playground, or the way you arranged the blocks in soft play to make a little igloo. These are things that are precious to you.
My son: But business people don’t build igloos… so what is their intellectual property like?
Me: Well, it will completely depend on the business, but usually it’s their ideas for things like names, logos, slogans or product designs. For example, what are your favourite sweets?
My son: Easy. Haribo Starmix.
Me: OK, so Haribo is a registered trademark, which means only Haribo can use that name. No one else is allowed to make sweets and put Haribo on the packet. If they do they’ll get into trouble and have to pay Haribo lots of money. It’s the same for the product names like Starmix, Supermix, Tangfastic and “The Happy World of Haribo”. These are all protected trademarks.
My son: I get it. You help people with trademarks. Can I have some Haribo now?
Me: Sorry, no. But it’s not just trademarks. There are other protections, like Copyright.
My son: I’ve seen that in the front of my Gruffalo book!
Me: Yes, that’s right! Clever boy. Julia Donaldson owns the copyright for the words because she wrote them, and Axel Scheffler owns the copyright for the pictures because he drew them. No one else is allowed to copy or use or sell those pictures without their permission.
My son: But the Gruffalo is on EVERYTHING like my pyjamas and my moneybox. Why did they give permission?
Me: Because they get paid when they give permission. It’s called licensing and it’s how most merchandise is made and how lots of writers and designers and artists make their money.
My son: I’ve even seen Gruffalo Lego.
Me: Oh wow, don’t get me started on Lego. I bet they have hundreds of people working to keep their intellectual property safe.
My son: Why? Who would steal it?
Me: Lego has been around for a while, and has been really, really successful, so lots of people want to make products that work with it or look like it.
My son: Like that time I won the Lego at the fair which wasn’t real Lego and was really hard to click together?
Me: Yes, that was a copy and it wasn’t as good. Lego has design registrations and design patents to try and stop that happening, but they don’t last for ever, so they are always fighting people who copy their ideas.
My son: They should keep their ideas secret if they don’t want them copied.
Me: Yes, good point. In fact they will do if they can. It’s called Trade Secret Protection and everyone who knows about it has to agree to keep it zipped, or else.
My son: OK Mummy, I can keep it zipped. I won’t tell anyone your trade secret.
Me: What trade secret?
My son: That you some sometimes google shoes when you are working. Can I go now?

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