[Wikithon] Intro to Intellectual Property (IP)


Many people have questions surrounding patents, open source, sharing knowledge, … In my education as an engineer we never really got to learn anything about IP. Most my fellow students and the researchers I know think that IP is (more or less) synonym for patents. Or patents are the only thing they know about anyway.

This is problematic: the people who are at the foundation of the knowledge generated in our society, know close to nothing about the different ways it can be shared or protected. Moreover, as a DIY scientist, hobbyist or person generally interested in sharing knowledge rather than mining it for ultimate profit, it’s important to know how to navigate the IP landscape.

So I’m going to write some posts on the nuts and bolts of Intellectual Property (IP). Mind you, it’s a work in progress ;-).


First off a definition. What exactly is Intellectual Property? Wikipedia says:

Intellectual property (or “IP”) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect, and primarily encompasses copyrights, patents, and trademarks. It also includes other types of rights, such as trade secrets, publicity rights, moral rights, and rights against unfair competition. Artistic works like music and literature, as well as some discoveries, inventions, words, phrases, symbols, and designs can all be protected as intellectual property.

Now, as someone who is into more open forms of sharing knowledge, the term “property” makes knowledge sound similar like a house, a car, a delicious pie that you own and can consume or use. But in essence, knowledge is different. When you live in a house, others can’t live in it (to an extent). When you drive your car, no one else can drive it. If I eat your pie, you can’t eat it. But: if you know what I know, I still know it. Knowledge is not zero sum.

Back in the day, when people would run kilometer after kilometer to deliver a message, knowledge was kind of valuable. It was costly to copy information. Now we live in a time when we’re being bombarded with information everywhere we go. With one click of a mouse, we can download or copy any encyclopedia we want. Sharing information has become nearly free.

Especially in a field like biomaterials that aims to solve the massive problem of waste, you’d ideally want as many people as possible working on a solution. By closing off knowledge behind patents, we’re severely limiting our possibilities at finding things. By design, it excludes many creative people to contribute. That’s why I wrote an open manual together with my colleagues, pretty quickly after we started building expertise. It has helped countless researchers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists and teachers all over the world to spread and expand the knowledge. That’s impact you can’t buy, not even with a bag of money from patent licensing fees.

Maybe you think all of the above is a utopia, but even the most skeptical would agree that it gives credit at a minimum for not taking at face value the commonly accepted truth that knowledge should be closed off.

###IP or IPR

That being said, it’s valuable to make the distinction between Intellectual Property (IP) and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). IP would be the car, whereas IPR would be the kind of lock you have on your car. If it took one click of a mouse to copy your car.

Anyway. Anything that exists in the mind is, in fact, IP. And patents, trademarks, creative commons licenses are IPR. They are the conditions under which information can be shared. The rules of the game. Note that you can also write “they are the conditions under which information can be protected.” Same thing, but language tends to drive behavior, so I’d advocate for talking about sharing.

After patents, Open source is another term that is often misunderstood. Open source is not IPR. It’s am umbrella term for many different licences (IPR) or even a way of collaborating. Then there’s also the more broader definition of open. I’ll dedicate a separate post to a practical guide to open (source) for biomaterial enthusiasts at some point.

That’s it for an introduction post. I’ll write more about different subtopics at some point in the future :slight_smile:

PS This post is a wiki. It is open source: you can adapt it as you wish if you read something that you think is not correct.


Hi Winne

We are thinking about using mycelium as packaging material. I guess most of what we would like to do is protected by ecovative.

We could work together with a club of craftsmen and they could provide their members (that is the craftsmen) with the packaging, not as a commercial product, but more as a awareness/PR kind of thing.

In the thread in the google group I read the advice, not to worry about the patents too much, as ecovative most likely wouldn’t sue anyways. However I understand, that every use of protected IP be it commercial or non-commercial is illegal in the US.

What do you think? How could we assess the risk of being prosecuted? Maybe it’s a better idea to talk to ecovative?


First thing before starting to doubt about the evocative patents is to read them all carefully, and then wonder what could we do better, improve, change. That is originally the goal of patents.

Second thing, packaging is a mass production item, you talk about working with craftsmen: that’s an other story already. So, develop a model were you don’t have to worry about the patents, if those scare you or your investors.

Third thing, you can take advice from a lawyer in IP, maybe one with knowledge in open source too. Let us know what his advice would be about the evocative patents :wink:

I’m not based in the US, so it depends from the location you are


You can use protected IP for research, that’s not a problem. Anything can be interpreted, of course :wink:

Ecovative is anyway going down it seems like. And their main patent is probably not defendable. They may do scare tactics or something, but likely there’s not so much risk. Either way, if you start doing more research now, chances are slim you’ll be in breach of the patents. There’s so much left to discover that the stuff you’ll find might be completely different.

Depends on your financial model and ambitions as well though. Above explanation should be enough to do a hobby project, maybe with a dream of ever having a business from it. But if you’re in full “startup mode” there’s no way you’ll find an investor who will invest with this potential risk in mind.



I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I have been to a few IP seminars for researchers and the like.

You are in Vienna right?? Did Ecovative registered their patent in Austria?? if not you are likely to be safe from prosecution at least until they decide to register it, there.

A patent in the US is not valid in the EU until after it has been registered. and as most lawyers in IP seminars have mentioned, there is no EU wide patent.



Wise words! That being said: once the priority period has passed, it’s not possible anymore to file an existing patent in the US in a different country. I believe this period is like 18 months, but would need confirmation from a real lawyer (not a TV one :smiley: )


I found a German patent that expired from 1993 describing more or less mycelium-materials: https://patents.google.com/patent/DE4305411A1/en
They used other words for basically the same because the glue is phenol oxidizing enzymes, and there is one sentence in the patent describing “phenol oxidizing enzymes, for example, from cultures of white rot fungi”

Or this paper from 1989 explains the proces with Trametes Versicolor: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bk-1989-0385.ch010.

Here are the conclusions of this paper (since it’s behind a paywall).

Fungal phenoloxidase enzymes produced on waste lignin containing effluents were suitable biocomponents in cold-setting and thermosetting lignin-based adhesives. The phenoloxidase-lignin bio-adhesive will be suitable as thermosetting glue in particleboard production if the water resistance of the boards can be increased. Results in this area have already been obtained. The properties of lignin-phenoloxidase-bonded particleboards revealed several advantages compared to synthetic resins:

  1. The lignin phenoloxidase adhesive implies the total utilization of waste lignin, directly as one component of the adhesive and indirectly as nutrient of the phenoloxidase-producing fungus.
  2. The production of enzyme-lignin-bonded particleboard is much less hazardous than the production of isocyanate-bonded particle- board, for example.
  3. The bio-adhesive consists of renewable raw material, so the production does not depend on the oil market.
  4. The phenoloxidase-lignin-bonded particleboards are free of any emission.
  5. The phenoloxidase-lignin adhesive is not only applicable as thermosetting adhesive but also as a cold-curing system.

I even found earlier sources of “myco wood” in the paper Investigation into the biotechnological modification of wood and its application in the wood‐based material industry

As early as 1949, LUTHARDT in co-operation with the Technical University of Dresden has developed a procedure for the modification of beech wood (Fagus silvatica) by mycological delignification. The aim was the improvement of the mechanical working properties of the material. An inoculum of white-rot fungi Pleurotus ostreatus or Trametes versicolor was used as a paste on the front surfaces of 0.4-1.2-m long pieces of round timber. The incubation of wood took place under nonsterile conditions over 3 to 5 months. During this time, the density of wood was reduced as a function of the time to 0.45 to 0.13 g/cm3. Because of this decrease in density and hardness, the “myco wood” was applicable to the pencil production, to the manufacturing of wood forms in the glass industry and to the model construction. In addition, it was also used as a cheap substitute for cedar wood.

LUTHARDT W.: Myko-Holz-Herstellung, Eigenschaften und Venvendung In:Holzzerstörung durch Pilze. Internationales Symposium Eberswalde, 1962. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1962.

Obviously, this is prior-art to the Ecovative patents, "their invention" already existed!


I’ve made a new topic for the prior-art of mycelium materials here.


I got sent a great resource about open source business models at the OSCE Days forum
–> https://community.oscedays.org/t/solution-videos-tool-on-open-source-business-models-for-circular-economy/4625

I suppose also @lucy knows more about what went down exactly at the event.


This is very interesting stuff and just what I need at the moment! :slight_smile:
Thanks for sharing @winnieponcelet


Excellent videos. Well worth the time.