Every kid in the world at some point in their lives has probably dreamt of inventing something or creating a brand–and making millions off their creative genius. I know I have. While I regret to inform you that I am neither a millionaire nor the next Steve Jobs (yet!), I’ve dabbled in many areas of intellectual property, which ultimately led me down the path to IP law.
A Stint with Patents
I vividly remember the day when I first started thinking about the importance of intellectual property. The date was August 31st, 2015. Ithaca was melting. My friends Insoo, Paul, Shane and I squeezed into my 12×18 square foot dorm room and huddled in front of the AC. Between us, we had 53 cents to our name and four mouths to feed. Scavenging our dorm for anything that would sate our hunger, we located my last remaining pack of instant rice. Our operation commenced. Sesame oil. Stir. Seaweed flakes. Stir. Unimpressed with the outcome, we suspiciously eyed the bag of stale Nacho Cheese Doritos lying on my desk. Desperate times called for desperate measures. I made the executive decision to mix in the Doritos. We then pooled our leftover beer money from the night before and used it to buy a single egg–the crème de la resistance. We quickly fried and tossed it on top of our rice. The dish was a beauty. We immediately argued over portions. Commiserating over the hot weather and our bleak situation, we dreamt of changing our lives by becoming America’s next Elon Musk.
There was only one problem: we couldn’t come up with a single idea.
But the next time we gathered to recreate our signature broke-student rice dish, I brought over a homemade portioning tool that I had crafted by fusing plastic single-use knives together. Little did I know that Insoo, the brain of our friend group, had also brought his own portioning device. I watched in horror as he showed off his invention–fused. plastic. single-use knives! His device used enough plastic knives to have perfect apportionment with the number of people we invited over. The girls swooned over his wits.
If only I had a patent, I could have excluded Insoo from making MY invention!
Playing Around with Copyrights and Trademarks
Five years and a “sorry bro” later, Insoo and I started “TrashBags” on Twitch, an online streaming platform where we interacted with Internet strangers as we played League of Legends (an online multiplayer game). Insoo, a game-aficionado, took helm of streaming the gameplay. I was TrashBag’s de facto head of creative design and video editor. Without a smidge of prior design experience, I designed our brand’s logo. I used some shoddy, logo-creation website whose name–to this day–I still don’t even remember. It had a paywall that demanded a one-time payment for full commercial rights and use of the logo. Yeah, nope. Instead, I took a picture of the logo I had created and used the grainy image as our profile picture on Twitch (in hindsight, this was probably not the best idea). With the monthly income we made from our subscribers and their donations, we slowly grew the TrashBags brand.
After we reached our 30th subscriber milestone, I sketched a few “emotes” we could use for our Twitch chat. I then outsourced the rendering and digitization process to gig freelancers I recruited on the Internet. And when we finally decided to edit our gameplay videos and post them on YouTube, we danced around our potential intellectual property problems. We knew that we were likely using copyrighted music and images, but we didn’t feel like we had time to address the various IP issues. At the time, I had no idea just how much IP was intertwined with our hobby and creative endeavors until I came to law school.
Arriving Full Circle
Although I initially attended law school to advocate for the proverbial “little guy,” I didn’t initially see how this could be connected to IP. I thought about TrashBags, my hobbies, my affinity for creative processes. I remembered that I was also once the “little guy” who could have used some help. I could feel my curiosity in IP law slowly taking root.
My interest in IP solidified when I attended the “Building Brands” event hosted by Loyola alum Lema Khorshid at the Lululemon store here in Chicago. The event celebrated some of Chicago’s finest local business owners and their respective journeys when creating their own brands. Listening to their stories first-hand made me realize how much each panelists’ brand meant to them and what it represented. The conviction, the enthusiasm, and the pride with which the members spoke about executing their dreams into reality really hit home for me. It reminded me of my own brand-building process. I’d learned that IP rights and issues affect creative casuals like me, to professionals aspiring to create their own legacies through their brands.
On my train ride home, I scrutinized my own creative journey. I remembered how dejected I felt when Insoo “took” my idea and won over the room. I remembered how I didn’t play by the rules and danced around the copyright and trademark issues when I was mindlessly operating TrashBags. In hindsight, I had become the same monster that I vilified when Insoo used my invention back in college. By not acknowledging the creatives who produced the music or images, I was essentially robbing them of something dear to their hearts, something that they worked hard to actualize for the utility of others. From then on, I realized I wanted to marry my creative itch with my desire to be an advocate. I wanted to help people, big or small, in protecting their intellectual property rights.
1L and Beyond
Throughout my first year in law school, I found that everything I enjoy–from my hobbies to interests–involves IP in some fashion. A great thing about Loyola is that there’s no shortage of opportunities to immerse yourself in the realm of IP. Take Loyola’s IP Law Society, for instance. Apart from being your tribe of fellow IP enthusiasts, IPLS organizes many IP-related events. I love that IPLS sends members invites whenever there are IP events hosted by the Intellectual Property Law Association of Chicago. Most recently, I attended a seminar for those tricky NFTs and their intersection with IP. For free! I’ve also enjoyed getting to know a plethora of IP attorneys through Loyola’s annual IP reception with alums. Loyola also offers an IP elective in your first year. I took Professor Ho’s specialized IP course “Global Access to Medicine: A Patent Perspective.” In this class, I learned about the role drug patents and competing perspectives play in access to affordable, global health. Professor Ho is an IP superstar and a Loyola legend. I would not pass up an opportunity to learn from the best and who genuinely cares about her students’ success, both in law school and beyond.
In the coming years, I plan on taking Copyright Law and Advanced Trademark Law. I want to better understand how copyrights and trademarks work for both consumers and brand owners. And after graduation, I’d love to work with different brands and creatives to help protect their visions–from brainstorming to actualization. Having been in those shoes myself, albeit not on such a professional scale, I want to be an advocate and enforcer for those who work hard to bring their ideas into fruition.
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2024