Music and patents, part 1: Why should musicians consider patent protection? – Intellectual property


Australia: Music and patents, part 1: Why should musicians consider patent protection?

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When musicians think of intellectual property, patent protection is often overlooked because music and performance are more often associated with other intellectual property rights, such as copyright and trademark protection. However, since musicians are creative by nature, patentable inventions can be created during the process of writing and performing music.

A famous example is the late great Eddie Van Halen, who, looking for a way to create new sounds from the electric guitar and master them, invented a medium that could be used for, in the floral words of the patent that was granted to him: ‘ leave[e] both hands free to explore the musical instrument like never before.’ Perhaps Eddie’s creativity rubbed off on the patent attorney who drafted the patent – the person who prepared the patent drawings certainly made sure to fully understand the intended use of the medium!


However, patentable inventions do not only arise from writing music. They can also stem from planning new dance moves and killer performances. Michael Jackson (along with two of his clients) was granted a patent in 1993 for a ‘method and means of creating an anti-gravity illusion’ to allow a performer to ‘lean forward beyond their center of gravity’ . Fans of the King of Pop will immediately recognize this as his signature dance move from the “Smooth Criminal” music video.

If you ever wondered how he was able to stoop so low or perform the live move without visible wires or cables, his invention included a V-shaped guide in each heel of his boots as well as hidden bolts in the floor of the stage that a stagehand could climb once MJ is in place. Slipping the heels over these bolts it was then firmly secured to the stage for the dance move, before disconnecting and the bolts returned to their hidden position so they would not interfere with the next dance move .


Musicians are also often blessed with a discerning ear and may want their music to be performed with “studio quality sound” rather than the compressed files favored by streaming services or MP3 players. In Neil Young’s case, it led him to invent the PonoPlayerMT portable music player, whose main selling point was that it played music in high resolution. To protect his invention, Neil Young was granted a patent for “Multiple Resolution Audio and Video Systems, Methods of Production, Delivery and Uses Thereof”.

In fact, Neil Young also proved that musicians don’t have to limit themselves to the musical sphere and can come up with completely distinct inventions. In addition to the PonoPlayerMT, Mr. Young also owns a number of patents related to his other passion in life, model trains. Neil Young’s model train inventions began when he was looking for a way to share his hobby with his son, whose cerebral palsy prevented him from using conventional model train remote controls. Don’t think for a moment that Mr. Young doesn’t bring his keen ear to all of his activities, as one of the stated benefits of his “model train control system” is to create “engine noise effects and brake”. to more realistically imitate a real train.


In our next article, we will discuss the rights granted by a patent, what is required for an invention to be patentable, and what to do if you think you have an invention.

This article is part of CDC’s Music and Intellectual Property initiative.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

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