When I have conversations with entrepreneurs who come to me to talk about intellectual property (IP), I often listen to them tell me about their amazing ideas and how they want to protect them. The hitch is that the legal system is really not designed to protect ideas. Instead, the whole premise behind having IP legal regimes is to promote the conceptualization, application and exchange of ideas.

First, let me take a moment to clarify what I mean when I use the word “idea.” To me, an idea is what comes from inspiration, like the epiphany in the mid-20th century that we could fly to the moon. Examples of innovation and creativity around this idea are everywhere and include everything from Sinatra’s classic rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon,” to NASA’s Apollo missions to today’s quest by Branson and others to make private space travel a reality. Our drive to innovate is our witchcraft, magically bubbling up everywhere, all the time, in all corners of the universe, in all arts, fine or technical, and in all human enterprise and cultures.

So it is not the ideas, but the innovation that flows from them that engages our society. Innovation in business is no less personal or fundamental to our existence as it is in other areas of our life, and like many other social imperatives can be supported by guidelines and frameworks for balancing interests and contributions to it. While the debate is always open about whether or not existing frameworks help or take away from achieving the best balance, society will always seek to find harmony through constructs for managing relationships.

One way that innovation is guided by social constructs is reflected in IP legal regimes. These regimes speak to what happens when an idea is being translated into a result and made accessible to the public. This can only happen in the co-creative processes that take place in relationship with one another. In these relationships, there will be intersecting interests and layered rights that arise from the fruits of our efforts.

The two primary issues that IP legal regimes address are who benefits from intellectual endeavour and how. In general terms, the various regimes create economic rights for creators/innovators and rights of use for the public because, after all, the governments and legal systems that grant rights in the form of patents, trademarks, copyright, industrial designs and trade secrets (confidential information) are there for and on behalf of the public.

So when NASA decides to release a chunk of its patent portfolio (under certain terms and conditions of course – http://www.sciencealert.com/nasa-just-released-56-patented-space-and-rocket-technologies-to-the-public) we are witnessing that the way things may have been done in the past can change and adapt to the way they need to be for the future, shifting the balance point in the relationship between governments, the marketplace, and the public interest.

At the end of the day, innovation is fueled by a continuing tradition of alchemy between ideas and the relationships which shape and mold them. In my experience, the ideas can be relatively easy to come by, but the magic comes from what we do in relationship with one another on our quests for the philosopher stone, a little moon rock, or to plant a few seeds and help them grow.