A recent Financial Times article on the role of intellectual property in literary estate management highlights a point we’re often making to clients and potential clients. The article describes a variety of ways in which the property of great literary figures has been handled after they’ve passed, some better than others. 

Felicity [Dahl] has been remarkably busy since her husband [Roald Dahl]’s death in 1990. She has established a children’s museum and charitable foundation, presided over several fantastical movie adaptations, set up an award-winning website and is now promoting the new Roald Dahl Funny Prize, awarded in November in London to authors Ursula Jones and Andy Stanton. 

JRR Tolkien sold the film rights to his books in 1969. His family is now embroiled in a lawsuit against New Line Cinema over royalties from the recent Lord of the Rings films. Some authors donate full rights to charities while others leave few instructions to heirs who let the writing slip into obscurity.

At The History Factory, we’re constantly reminding our clients about the importance of not only discovering and preserving their history, but also using it. Like Felicity Dahl or the family of Ian Fleming (James Bond’s creator), companies can put their past intellectual property to work for them in ways they may not have even envisioned when it was being created. 

Old product ideas spur new innovations; old marketing slogans spur new branding campaigns. By using their past for inspiration, companies can carry their brand and culture into the future, demonstrate longevity and consistency to employees and consumers, and improve sales. (Would Fleming’s 1952 Casino Royal still be flying off the shelves if the 2006 movie hadn’t reminded readers it existed—and spurred publishers to release new editions? Probably not.)

The alternative is to let your past sit in a box and rot. Or, worse, find that it’s slipped out of your hands—as J. D. Salinger recently did.