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Intellectual property: What is it, and how does it apply to dental hygiene?

May 8, 2023
Knowing your intellectual property rights and how to safeguard them (and properly credit others) is critical for dental hygienists who want to grow their careers through speaking, writing, and other endeavors.
Jackie Sanders, MBA, RDH, Chief editor, RDH magazine

Recently, something came to my attention that’s been happening more frequently. An author/speaker told me her content had been used on another hygienist’s website and in their presentations. Simply put, her intellectual property had been reused without her permission.

As many dental hygienists embrace new career opportunities as speakers, authors, educators, and business owners, they may not realize that the professional expertise they present becomes their intellectual property and isn’t to be copied or replicated in the same fashion—and likewise, that they can’t simply repurpose someone else’s ideas and use them.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) defines intellectual property rights as “the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds.” These creations may be shared in articles, lectures, and, most relevant to our profession, in continuing education courses.

What does it mean to infringe on intellectual property rights?

There are different ways to directly or unintentionally infringe on intellectual property rights. Here are some examples:

  • Copying content
  • Reusing an individual’s presentation content (such as bullets from a PowerPoint presentation)
  • Not citing an individual whose expertise you have used as a source; if you call or email someone for their personal knowledge, you’re required to cite that individual as your source
  • Not citing an interview or discussion with a topic expert; when interviewing an expert, consider that discussion a reference resource and provide credit by citing their name for the intelligence provided (similar to referencing any research resource used for building content)

Over the years this has become a professional challenge, possibly because many people don’t understand what intellectual property represents. Some speakers no longer choose to be recorded or have their slides shared; they’re no longer comfortable providing handouts, and it makes them cringe when they see audience members taking photos of their slides during a presentation.

Too often these days, we see others’ referenced work show up in someone else’s presentations and that person takes credit. Since working as chief editor of RDH, I’ve seen these mistakes frequently, and I hope this is due only to lack of understanding. It is a mistake not taken lightly.

You might also be interested in: Write it right: RDH is not a degree

To protect their intellectual property, many professionals have turned to trademark and copyright law. As such, you’ll see many presentations protected with the trademark (TM) or copyright (©) symbols. Sometimes, intellectual property is protected by a patent; another way of protecting it is through a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), a legally binding contract that secures confidentiality. The concept of protecting intellectual property is so widespread that there are attorneys who specifically advise people on how to protect their ideas. There are numerous platforms you can research to provide guidance on the process of protecting your intellectual property.

The bottom line: Always give credit

If you didn’t create the content or if the idea wasn’t yours, don’t reuse it without citing your source. If someone provides a great reference resource, read it and define your own thoughts—then be sure to recognize all sources you used for your own intellectual property.

The best way to protect yourself is to understand what intellectual property truly is. Build your own thoughts and use your work, not someone else’s. Just as we were taught in school, when writing, you must reference your sources. The same applies to building content: you must reference your sources.

About the Author

Jackie Sanders, MBA, RDH | Chief editor, RDH magazine

Jackie Sanders, MBA, RDH, has over four decades of continual career development and experience in dentistry. As the chief editor of RDH magazine, she strives to remain a proactive personality in the continual advancement of the profession. She has been defined as a motivated trendsetter and dependable colleague and is inspired by her true passion of helping others to achieve their personal goals. 

Updated February 28, 2022