Julia Rutherford Silvers, CSEP

Certified Special Events Professional

Event Management Authority

Like angels and elephants dancing on the head of a pin, our dreams and responsibilities may have no limits, but must be balanced according to the music of the moment.









The Value of Ideas

Published in Event Solutions Magazine, March 2000


I had the pleasure of being a part of the Great Industry Debate at the 1999 Event Solutions Expo’s opening session. The parliament-style debate, lead by Dr. Joe Goldblatt, CSEP of the George Washington University’s Event Management Program as the Speaker of the House of Commons, addressed whether the special event industry should support protection of intellectual property. In other words, is it okay to steal ideas? What constitutes stealing ideas? What ideas can be protected?

The Government, supporting protection of intellectual property, argued that the contents of proposals were the property to be protected and respected. The Loyal Opposition’s argument against such protection, and only for the sake of argument as the participants do not support the stealing of intellectual property, centered on the source of creative ideas and who should get credit for providing the origin of that inspiration. In fact, we were debating two different items.

The Government’s position was that all special event professionals should include a copyright or proprietary clause on all proposals. In order to be protected (in this context), an idea must be “captured”. This is accomplished within the written proposal. Special event professionals should routinely include a copyright or proprietary clause on their proposals, showing clients and colleagues the value of the contents and concepts included.

The following statement is the proprietary clause my company used, developed over the years, drawing from a broad variety of creative property clauses colleagues throughout the industry have shared with us.


All ideas and concepts detailed in the enclosed proposal have been developed exclusively by Expo Events, Inc. for [client name and company], on [proposal date] and are considered by Expo Events, Inc. to be of a proprietary nature. These ideas and concepts remain the property of Expo Events, Inc. (This identifies who is responsible for protecting your creative property, and when that person got the information.)

In this respect, [client name and company] must honor our proprietary rights to the content of this proposal and refrain from disclosing its contents to our competitors or any third party. Unauthorized use of these ideas and concepts is strictly prohibited.

Should you wish to produce the ideas and concepts included in this proposal without retaining Expo Events, Inc., a Design Consultation Fee of $_______ will be required. (You calculate this amount any way you want, either your design fee, or a percentage of the "lost business", or punitive compensation.)

All documents, written proposals and other materials submitted by Expo Events, Inc. shall be returned to Expo Events, Inc. upon request.

Including this statement will not guarantee that your ideas will not be stolen, but it will discourage some and identify to others that this practice is not acceptable. You would be surprised at the number of people who don't realize that it is unethical to use someone else's ideas. And many people do not understand the value of creativity. When asked how long it has taken me to design something, I respond with, "All My Life!"

When we are preparing a proposal, we bring all our creative forces together and offer idea after idea to potential customers. If we do not charge anything for this proposal, the ideas, why would anyone think the ideas have any value? We as an industry must start seriously considering charging for our proposals. That, however, is another debate altogether.

Let’s consider the argument posed by the Loyal Opposition, the “stealing” of ideas as a source of our creativity, our event designs. This is the question that continued the debate out into the halls during the rest of the convention. What are we allowed to use in the creative process? Can we simply copy a prop we have seen? Can we use the event elements of a function we have attended for our future event designs?

When we see a creative idea, it sparks our imagination and we develop it to suit our own needs, our client’s needs, or our own style. That’s how the creative brainstorming process works. You take ideas and concepts that you have seen or heard and combine them with other ideas and concepts. You use ideas from all sorts of resources. The very basis of good theme party design is to “work from the familiar”. That means we must use ideas people have seen and build upon them, expand them and add that surprising twist. In all my seminars and speaking engagements I include the instruction that we, as special event professionals, do not steal ideas—we adopt and adapt.

What we must change is the word, not the action, the seeking out of inspirational and educational resources. We must continually feed our internal creative library with images and ideas so there is something to spark that inspiration. We attend conferences and conventions, we read many different publications—industry specific as well as fashion, interior design and business related.

The intellectual property issue then becomes the conscious decision to share and display these ideas, giving permission for others to learn from them. In the context of the Event Solutions Expo we enjoyed numerous special events that were very creative. We learned a lot from experiencing them. The creators, the producers and the exhibitors knew this was part of the arrangement.

It is a completely different matter when the designer (of an event, a prop or a unique piece of equipment) has not authorized this “sharing”. If you copy something exactly, without permission, that is stealing. Adopt it and adapt it.

If you’re asked to quote prices for an event design that is clearly marked with a creative property clause (or is obviously someone else’s proposal or concept), that’s where the industry must draw the line and protect the intellectual property. Your options can include refusing to bid on it or better yet, refusing to bid and telling the client why.

Either the client doesn’t realize this is unacceptable, or this is not the client you want to build a relationship with. After all, if the client did this to another event designer, what makes you think he or she won’t do it to you? We must protect each other if we wish to be protected ourselves.

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