Important IP Lessons from Movies

In the wake of the Oscars, social media is constantly reminding us of the best films released over the last year. We’re always excited about award ceremonies at Metis Partners, as we’ve won a few ourselves, however this year we have even more cause for celebration in the form of Joy.

Intellectual Property is not often the theme of major Hollywood films, however IP specialists world-wide are excited by Joy – the story of real-life entrepreneur Joy Mangano whose patent for her self-wringing mop marked the beginning of her business empire. This film shows that IP can be complicated and if you don’t do proper diligence you can get your fingers seriously burned!

We dug deeper to find other IP related films and were surprised to discover how easily intellectual property links to corporate espionage, betrayal, complex lawsuits, theft, and murder. These problems hopefully won’t occur with your business, but while entertaining you, IP centred films can give you interesting insights into what to do and, more often, what not to do. Here are some tips and tricks we’ve picked up – enJOY!

***DISCLAIMER: These observations were purely from what was depicted in the films and therefore any misinformation relating to real companies is due to their creative license. ***

 EDUCATE YOURSELF – lessons from Joy

As well as being an inspirational success story, Joy details the creation of a single invention and the IP disputes surrounding it. Joy Mangano was forced to file bankruptcy due to her manufacturer’s deceit, who increased production costs and fraudulently tried to patent her invention. She left legal negotiation to others, who changed the license agreement without her consent. She was able to pick out this huge oversight only after reading all of the paperwork herself. Having a specialised patent lawyer or IP know-how would have enabled her to avoid these issues and file for a patent herself prior to manufacturing.

What helped Mangano to succeed was her drive, ambition, and flair for invention, but all of this could have been scuppered by her minimal IP knowledge and lack of attention to detail. To protect your innovation, make sure you have the expertise you need on all legal and IP matters, either by educating yourself about the specifics or outsourcing to an IP specialist, and ensure that all relevant agreements are in place.

 KEEP YOUR CONTRACTS TIGHT – lessons from The Social Network

The Social Network depicts the foundation of Mark Zuckerberg’s worldwide social media platform – Facebook. Zuckerberg created TheFacebook while at Harvard, however this film reveals that the story of the inspiring entrepreneur may not be a simple one.

Zuckerberg was hired by Harvard Connection to create a website ‘ConnectU’ and, after backing out of the arrangement, set up his own very similar page. While The Social Network doesn’t reveal whether Harvard Connection had any employment agreements in order to protect their IP, they didn’t attempt to act against him for several years, i.e. until Facebook became prosperous.

To keep employees, past and present, from walking away with your big idea, make sure you keep what you believe to be important either under wraps as a trade secret and/or covered by an NDA agreement. Harvard Connection lost out to a creation which was later worth billions of pounds – don’t make the same mistake.

On the other hand, the software written for Facebook allegedly used none of the same code as ConnectU. Zuckerberg was IP-savvy and made sure his company would not be liable. While he was inspired by the ideas behind ConnectU, he knew he had the skills to make a significantly superior reality. When taking part in a collaboration, either as a partner or outsourcer, make sure you don’t sign away your own IP which could prevent you from innovating in the future.

DON’T BE TOO TRUSTING – lessons from Flash of Genius

Another true story which has been recreated is Flash of Genius, telling the legal journey of Robert Kearns – inventor of the intermittent windscreen wiper. Kearns patented his design and attempted to license it to Ford, who asked for a pricing list, as well as a sample of the product. After getting no response, he learned that Ford had used his wipers on their new car. Kearns spent thirteen years fighting for his invention to be recognised, although when he was finally given a $13m settlement, Ford’s infringement was claimed to be accidental!!

Kearns’ story is often cited as a David and Goliath struggle but the important takeaway is: if you want someone to license your product, don’t send any samples or detailed schematics without a signed contract and an NDA. Luckily Kearns’ endeavour, which culminated in the 1980s, attracted masses of publicity and made patent litigation much easier.

 IF IN DOUBT, PATENT AND PROTECT – lessons from The Spanish Prisoner and The Man in the White Suit

The perils of lack of patents or other protection can be seen both in The Spanish Prisoner and The Man in the White Suit, where the fictional protagonists are met with elaborate (or not so elaborate) schemes to stop lucrative ideas or inventions from being commercialised. In The Spanish Prisoner, engineer Joe was persuaded that his boss would not properly recognise him for his invention and to bring a copy of his process to a sinister meeting, which is then stolen. Similarly, brilliant inventor Sidney created a fabric which repelled dirt while labouring at a laundry mill, which his boss tried to suppress by locking him up.

While you are unlikely to be framed for murder and fooled into seeking political asylum in Venezuela, the lessons behind these films are very applicable to innovators. By revealing important details regarding their inventions before filing a patent, these protagonists put themselves at risk of falling at the first hurdle. This danger is very real, and if you want to protect your innovation, make sure you keep important information to yourself and if you’re not sure what to reveal in order to attract funding, get an IP specialist to help you.


Many of the problems encountered by the protagonists in these movies can be avoided by getting expert help. Our advisory team can assist you with your IP management in order create IP strategies in line with your overall business plan. We can help you commercialise your IP assets and advise you on how to patent and properly value the IP you are introducing or creating in partnerships and joint ventures. Similarly, we can perform due diligence to ensure that your IP is being fully protected and give you suggestions for dealing with any areas of risk. We can also conduct patent landscaping and help answer questions you may have about technology feasibility within one or more markets. Please contact us at or call 01413533011 if there are any areas where you want our input – though we can’t promise we won’t lock you in a cupboard!

Image credit: Maltingsberwick

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