Ahead of Design Assembly’s upcoming Auckland workshop on Intellectual Property & Commercial Practice for Designers on March 12th, we spoke with workshop facilitator and legal expert Bret Gower to learn more about his transition from design to legal practice and what participants can expect from this workshop.
Tell us about yourself? What do you do day-to-day?
I’m part of the commercial team at Smith and Partners, a long-established and growing law firm in West Auckland. My day-to-day ranges from advising clients on the sale and purchase of businesses – including franchises, contract drafting and review across a huge range of industry types, and advice around intellectual property matters, trade mark registration and disputes and copyright issues. I am also the resident tax law geek in the office so if others in the firm have a tax question I’m the go-to person for that.
What lead you from Design to Law?
That question involves a very long answer, that differs every time somebody asks. Disillusionment with design to a certain extent, but also seeking a new challenge – and having the opportunity at that time in my life to look at something new.
How does your design expertise enrich or inform your legal practice?
I’m not sure it does exactly. I have a different expectation of how things can be based on my background (but that is not necessarily design expertise). I do enjoy looking for new ways to do things, so from that point of view it’s been helpful, and I am very detail oriented (some say pedantic) which has been very helpful. I was always inclined to look for logic in the design rationale and law is a very logical, argument based discipline – so there have been some sort of personal satisfactions in working in a new discipline that values logic (for example I get fewer clients asking their husband or wife what they think of the work we produce).
Matthew Butterick (who also transitioned from design to legal practice) wrote: “the history of artists getting cheated on their work is as long and colorful as the history of art itself.” Why do you think the creative disciplines are so vulnerable to rights infringement and contract issues?
1. Designers create value, other people want the benefit of that value without delivering any consideration to the designer – therefore conflict ensues.
2. Designers (and other people in general) are inclined to buy into the myth that being ‘creative’ excuses them from being business-like, or in a similar vein, that they can’t be both creative and business-like. The outcome of not being seen as business-like is that people tend to take advantage, and designers tend to be lax about enforcing their rights.
What is the most critical (or overlooked) legal issue facing New Zealand design studios?
I haven’t done any extensive research but my guess would be a combination of employment vs freelancing/outsourcing contracts and the associated ownership of their work.
What do you enjoy most about sharing your knowledge?
Realising how far I have come in my own understanding, and how much there is still to learn.
Finally what can participants expect to gain from your workshop?
Hopefully they will take away an understanding of the rights they have, that there are ways to protect them, and there are people out there who understand their situation and can help if necessary.
And a top-level knowledge of trade mark and copyright law, and some other general understanding of how the law works in relation to design practice/business.