Celebrating World Intellectual Property Day: Building our common future with innovation and creativity.

My name is Smrithi Mohan, and I am the General Counsel of Awesome, the incredible company behind your favorites: SmugMug, Flickr, and This Week in Photo. As I sit down to write this blog article for World Intellectual Property Day, I find myself reflecting on the theme of this year’s celebration: “IP and the SDGs: Building our common future with innovation and creativity.” Not sure what SDGs are? Neither are a lot of people! Which is why I think this year’s theme is so important, and why this subject is near and dear to me personally.

Sustainable development goals, or SDGs for short, are part of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In the UN’s own words, this agreement “provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” At its heart are 17 SDGs around ending poverty and hunger, providing quality healthcare and education, and building sustainable growth and infrastructure.

At Awesome, the world’s best and brightest photography company, I find myself sitting squarely at the intersection of intellectual property and sustainable development—and innovation and creativity have played a pivotal role in getting me here. So, today, I’d like to reflect on how I got here, and what makes this such a special place to be.

The early years: Innovation starts at home.

From a young age, my parents instilled in me the ability to see the world through the lens of creativity, emphasizing how we could make a difference and improve people’s lives through innovation. My father, a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, is an inventor with numerous patents to his name, a published author, and a seasoned veteran in the telecom industry and academia. Meanwhile, my mother holds a master’s degree in computer science and brought the spirit of innovation not only to her workplace but also to our home, shaping my brother’s and my upbringing with the power of creativity.

This early foundation was pivotal in shaping my worldview. Though the concept of sustainable development goals did not exist at the time, when I visited remote villages and slums in parts of India as a child, my eyes were opened to poverty, hunger, and a lack of access to good health, well-being, and quality education. It was through this experiential education my parents gifted me with that I became acutely aware of the vast number of underprivileged children and orphans worldwide. This realization ignited a passion within me to leverage my privilege and resources to create positive change.

With the limited power I had during my high-school years, I founded an organization called Reach Out, where students fostered pen-pal relationships with orphans in underprivileged countries. During a time when the Internet was still in its infancy, I honed my skills in HTML and web design to create a website to showcase our organization’s efforts and appeal for donations and partnerships. It was a way to extend our reach and bring something special to a child in a distant corner of the world who lacked the privileges we often took for granted. We fundraised to send care packages to these children, delivering food, clothing, books, and toys, particularly during holidays. What started as a small initiative blossomed into a movement as other high-school students from different schools joined in, spreading our efforts far and wide.

Finding Awesome: How like-minded partnerships can bring SDGs to life.

This profound lifelong passion to leverage my creative and innovative abilities, along with my dedication from a young age to volunteer and give back to the community, has guided me to this extraordinary company, whose values align so closely with my own and where I am genuinely honored to spearhead legal initiatives. Our mission at Awesome is building a better world through the power of photography. Through this creative medium, I am so grateful that we engage in vital missions that align with many SDGs, especially those around climate, sustainability, and environmental impact.

As proud partners with The Conservation Alliance, alongside esteemed organizations like Rivian, REI, and Patagonia (among many others), we are part of Mobilizing for Monuments—a coalition dedicated to protecting our public lands for the benefit of our economy, culture, and way of life. Last month, we leveraged our intellectual-property strength of copyright to create compelling photography and videography, immersing viewers in the essence of these landscapes as we showcased their magic in Washington, D.C. We joined forces with fellow advocates and engaged in meetings with key decision-makers, advocating for national-monument designations and expansions. These endeavors have the potential to safeguard more than three million acres of public lands, highlighting the transformative influence of photography and demonstrating the impactful application of intellectual property, creativity, and a shared commitment to continuously enhance our world and secure our future.

And that’s just in the past year! Looking further back, Awesome’s commitment to environmental sustainability is clear: In addition to being a Climate Pledge signatory, we are proud to have achieved Climate Neutral Certification, demonstrating our dedication to reducing our carbon footprint and combating climate change. The rigorous standards set forth by Change Climate, the managing body of Climate Neutral certification, helped us implement a range of innovative ways to measure, reduce, and offset our carbon emissions. And while we’re now certified, we’re far from done. We’re committed to continually improving our sustainability practices to help build a greener, more sustainable future for all. 

Beyond sustainability and climate, Awesome is also focused on other SDGs like gender equality and reduced inequalities, and our people team is constantly reevaluating our company policies to ensure we’re consistent in important programs like pay equity, family benefits, physical and mental healthcare, and work–life balance. We also go out of our way to showcase these principles outwardly, as when we participated in the #InspiringInclusion campaign for International Women’s Day, elevating the stories of remarkable women photographers across the globe. We’re actively building a culture that fosters inspiration, growth, and opportunity for all.

Intellectual property and our common future.

Now, you might be asking what all this has to do with intellectual property? Well, photographers are creators, and creators need the protections of intellectual-property policy to safeguard their art, their memories, and their livelihood. The longevity and sustainability of Awesome and its brands is absolutely essential to ensuring our customers’ photos are safe, now and long into the future. That’s why in addition to our work addressing key SDGs, we are also actively developing an innovation and intellectual-property program here at Awesome. This initiative will harness the value of innovation, intellectual property, design thinking, and creativity to benefit our colleagues, customers, partners, and the world at large. 

World Intellectual Property Day is a reminder to me that each of us must collectively think about and discuss how we can tackle the obstacles facing our world today. The little girl in me, whose eyes were opened to the stark contrast of privilege and disadvantage, and whose world expanded when her parents revealed the impact she could make by thinking beyond conventional boundaries, is overjoyed to be part of a company that encourages me to continue exploring, applying, and building upon the foundation I established during those formative years. 

Each step we take, both individually and collectively, brings us closer to solutions and makes the world a better place. Today is our reminder to keep applying our creativity and innovative power to continue developing intellectual property that serves the betterment of all. The more we do so, the more we can build a brighter, more equitable future for generations to come. Happy World Intellectual Property Day!

Written by: Smrithi Mohan, General Counsel of Awesome

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