Home » General Interest » Intellectual property in the Dilbert cartoons, and other things

Intellectual property in the Dilbert cartoons, and other things

Keltie LLP

K2 IP Limited

About IPcopy

IPcopy is an intellectual property related news site covering a wide variety of IP related news and issues. We will also take the odd lighthearted look at IP. Feel free to contact us via the details on the About Us page.

Disclaimer: Unless stated otherwise, the contributors to IPcopy (the "IPcopy writers") are patent and trade mark attorneys or patent and trade mark assistants at Keltie LLP or are network attorneys at K2 IP Limited. Guest contributors will be identified.

This news site is the personal site of the contributors and is not edited by the authors' employer in any way. From time to time however IPcopy may publish practice notes, legal updates and marketing news from Keltie LLP or K2 IP Limited. Any such posts will be clearly marked.

This news site is for information purposes only. Information posted to this news site is not legal advice and should not be taken as such. If you require IP related legal advice please contact your legal representative.

For the avoidance of doubt Keltie LLP and K2 IP Limited have no liability as to the content of IPcopy and any related tweets or social media posts.

Privacy Policy

IPcopy’s Privacy Policy can be viewed here.

Dilbert Mark


For me, three writers on management stand out:

• Peter Drucker (1909-2005), especially for The effective executive (1967). The effective executive contains robust – often uncomfortable –management truths (notwithstanding its inevitably dated case studies); it is short; and it is organised in a straightforward, unflashy manner which is appealing to the legal practitioner. Drucker also said (with resonance for any managing partner or in-house head of intellectual property): “As a manager, you clean up messes. Who the hell wants to do that?”

• Lucy Kellaway, who writes weekly in the Financial Times, fuelled by vacuous and incoherent pronouncements of corporate “leaders” and by insights communicated to her by frustrated employees. She questions the value of any new management ideas beyond those of Drucker and of “total quality management” of the 1980s.

• And finally, Adam Scott, who in the daily comic strip Dilbert has created a simultaneously surreal and recognisable US ICT company (ICT= information and communications technology). In this company, the nerdy Dilbert, the ferociously efficient Alice, and the lazy Wally work for the “pointy-haired boss” dedicated to “management speak” – while apparently failing to notice that they have non-human colleagues such as Dogbert, Catbert, and Ratbert. (UK residents can find Dilbert in the Daily Express and the International New York Times, as well as online at www.dilbert.com.)

Scott’s characters encounter not only management fads but also legal including IP matters.

Have you ever had – as I certainly have – clients who have failed to take specialist advice before contracting out work to generate IP on which they become dependent, whether technology, corporate artwork, databases, or software – probably because the contract was low-cost and therefore seen incorrectly as “low-value”? (A case on the public record is that of Classic FM who paid Robin Ray to create a database of classical music at £ 200/day, but without IP terms: Ray v Classic FM plc [1998] EWHC Patents 333 (18 March 1998).) Dilbert also entered into a “low-value” contract having decided not to take advice; in his case, he later found he had agreed to have his organs harvested:


And do your ICT clients despair of patent-clearance searching before launching a new product or service, knowing that the search will almost inevitably throw up numerous third-party patent claims which may possibly cover the proposed product or service but probably not validly? (Policy-makers and academics describe such groups of blocking patents as “patent thickets”, common in ICT but uncommon in the chemical arts.) When Dilbert analysed the situation for employers, he concluded that since “all future ideas are covered by over-general patents”, his employers should “get out of this business” and become lawyers:


And what of “trade mark cluttering”, which bedevils the selection of new marks uncovered by third-party rights? (Class 9 has always been crowded, but in recent years more so because of the OHIM practice of examining only on absolute grounds and, notwithstanding IP Translator, of granting an all-goods- (or services-) in-class specification; and cluttering is now a serious problem in several other classes.) Dilbert experienced trade mark cluttering, too, when he found that the only names available for his company’s new class 9 product were those of war criminals or of inappropriate bodily parts, or else were the “funnier nicknames for partnerless loving”:


Finally, back to “management speak”, eschewed by Drucker and pilloried by Kellaway and Adams. One of the following two vacuous statements is genuine (quoted by Kellaway) and one is fictitious (from Dilbert):

• “The next evolutionary change in business requires a paradigm shift in thinking, involving a grassroots revamp.”

• “We need to follow our strategy road map and strengthen our core to become the provider of choice.”

But which?


Mike Jewess  10 April 2014

Dr Michael Jewess was latterly Chief Counsel, Intellectual Property at BAE Systems and now is an attorney at K2, the network of patent and trade mark attorneys developed by Keltie LLP.

For a more contextualised coverage of the above topics, see Chapters 8, 10, 11, and 18 of Michael Jewess, Inside intellectual property – best practice in intellectual property law, management, and strategy (Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, London, 2013, 516 plus xxviii pages, £ 35 for CIPA members, £ 40 for non-members, details and order form at www.researchinip.com/iip.htm). See the book also for the answer to the poser with which the above post ends!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: