Home » IP - Hit or miss? » IP – Hit or Miss? Why Tony Stark might want to reconsider Pepper Potts as CEO

IP – Hit or Miss? Why Tony Stark might want to reconsider Pepper Potts as CEO

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iron manIn the film Iron Man 2, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) gets into an argument with his friend Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) who, after a bout of CGI enhanced fighting, makes off with one of his Iron Man suits.

Shortly after this, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) who is CEO of Stark Industries is seen berating someone on the telephone about the suit that has gone missing. During the call she says the following (as near as I recall):

“Illegal seizure of trademarked property”


“Don’t tell me we have the best patent lawyers in the country and then not pursue this”

So, what’s wrong with these statements? (Other than the fact I picked up on them and thought to write an article about it!).

Well, Ms Potts is seemingly confusing patents and trade marks. The references to these two forms of intellectual property come in the same sequence so presumably she has (incorrectly) used the terms interchangeably.

Patents are the mechanism through which we protect inventions (be they new things or new processes) whereas trade marks are signs (logos, words, shapes, sounds even smells) that distinguish goods and services in the marketplace from those of your competitors.

As the CEO of a company (albeit a fictional one!) which is responsible for innovating new products and processes, Pepper Potts should really be more familiar with basic IP definitions.*

Of course, this could all just be a minor script mess up. I wonder if Hollywood needs a script doctor who specialises in IP references? If anyone needs one, I can be contacted via the About Us page.

Verdict (Iron Man 2): IP Miss

[*By the way, if anyone thinks I’m asking too much for such a movie-based IP reference to be correct then check out Men in Black starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Upon enquiring how the Men in Black (MiB) operation is paid for Will Smith’s Agent J is told by Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K that “We hold patents on a few gadgets we confiscated from the visitors. Velcro, microwave ovens, liposuction”.

This reference is spot on. It links gadgets (inventions) with patents and also suggests that the MiB patents have been successfully licensed to provide a lucrative income stream.

Verdict (MiB): IP Hit]

Mark Richardson    26 April 2013

This article is part of an occasional series of articles that takes a light-hearted look at IP as it appears in the media (films, TV, news reports etc) as an excuse to talk about different IP topics. A vague rating of “IP hit or miss?” may also be given depending on how well the particular IP concept has been incorporated into the media in question.

Previous “IP – hit or miss?” article – Doctor Who (IP Hit or miss?) 


  1. John H says:

    Also, I’m not convinced that Tony Stark would have wanted to reveal his link with the Iron Man suit, let alone make the details “enabling disclosure” required for a patent. I think what Ms Potts means is “illegal seizure of confidential material” or of “trade secrets”. Or (given that the military guy has made off with the actual suit rather than building his own) perhaps the word “theft” would do…

  2. […] IP – Hit or Miss? Why Tony Stark might want to reconsider Pepper Potts as CEO April 26, 2013 […]

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