4 Interesting Facts on the Nobel Prize and Intellectual Property

‘Tis the season of the Nobel Prizes, possibly the most prestigious awards on the planet. These annual celebrations of the works of individuals and organizations in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, LiteraturePeace and Economic Sciences (as a memorial award created in Alfred Nobel’s name) are also the centre of a global media maelstrom for months before both the actual announcements, and the famous Nobel banquet, the latter of which held on December 10 (the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death) every year.

The Prizes are funded by the Nobel Foundation, which exists, among other things, to manage and maintain Alfred Nobel’s assets to ensure the Prizes continue to be awarded. Might these assets include copyrights and trade-marks, you ask?

Why yes, indeed. And so, here are 4 interesting facts on the Nobel Prize and intellectual property:

 1. The Nobel Foundation Rights Association:

tms                 Image Source: Meredith Atwater for opensource.com, Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike

The Nobel Foundation takes intellectual property rights surrounding the Prizes, Alfred Nobel’s name, and the content produced by Nobel Laureates (like the required public lecture that every Laureate must deliver) very, very seriously.

So much so that it even has its own umbrella organization, the Nobel Foundation Rights Association that protects the use and dissemination of information related to the Prizes – including the Award Ceremonies and the Banquets.

Nobel Media AB licenses everything from streaming and broadcast rights to the allowed use of images of Alfred Nobel and also states the manner in which these can be used. Enforcing the proper use of the trade-marks and copyrights owned by the Nobel Foundation is of course, included in the above.

And yes, the Nobel Prize Medal design is a registered trade-mark of the Nobel Foundation.

2. Each Nobel Diploma is Copyrighted:

Writing Apparatus               Image Source: “Writing Apparatus“, Kaushik Narsimhan, Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike

So, what’s in the Nobel Prize gift bag? For 2014, winners get a Nobel Diploma, a gold medal, and 8 million Swedish krona (about 1.2 million USD).

What’s more, the calligraphy on each diploma is considered a work of art in itself. In fact, the Nobel Foundation publishes a list of each and every artist and calligrapher who has worked on the Diplomas since 1901.

And needless to say, the copyright and various related intellectual property and licensing rights of each Diploma are assigned by the artist to the Nobel Foundation, which administers their use.

3. Do Nobel Laureates “Own” Their Prizes?

auctions            Image Source: “Lots Road Auctions“, Monica Arellano-Ongpin, Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike

Physically, yes. In principle, no. Here’s why. Nobel Prize Medals and Diplomas have been pawned, auctioned and passed down by wills of the Laureates, meaning that the physical objects themselves are the property of Laureates and their heirs.

But, seeing as the Nobel Foundation owns and controls the dissemination of all trade-marks related to the Nobel Prizes, this presumably means they own the rights to how the Nobel Prize can be associated with, and with whom.

So, even if you do cough up the money to buy that 1936 Peace Prize Medal, don’t think you can 3D print your name onto it.

4. Brand Nobel:

Brand Nobel          Image Source: Mekhala Chaubal, 2014; Word Cloud Maker: Wordle

The biggest honour of winning the Nobel Prize is the prestige attached to it, which often translates into an exponentially increased interest in the Laureate, both monetarily and otherwise.

Winning a Nobel also attaches that honour to the groups, organizations and affiliations that a Laureate is involved with, so a Nobel Prize winner can influence everything from the stock price of a company’s IPO, to a university’s reputation.

Winning a Nobel Prize means the Laureate is now able to use the benefits that belonging to the elite club of award winners brings with it. And because all Nobel Prizes point to the same set of objectives that are used to award the Prizes, winning an award makes the Laureate a part of Brand Nobel, globally and forever. Kind of like trade-mark protection, no?

And if I’m off the mark with my reasoning, here’s an in-depth research paper using the Nobel Prize as a case study as a “true corporate heritage brand”, linked by the purpose of its establishment: “For the greatest benefit of all mankind“.


Cover Image: Copyright, Mekhala Chaubal (2014)
Cover Image Text Source: “The Will“, Nobelprize.org
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About: Mekhala Chaubal

Mekhala is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, Canada with an interest in all areas of intellectual property (IP) law in a transnational context, privacy rights, and the development of IP in emerging economies. She is currently immersed in learning about innovation, entrepreneurship and the finer points of patent, copyright and trade-mark law as IP Legal Assistant.

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