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How Tony Wheeler protected Lonely Planet’s IP

In the early days of Lonely Planet, founder Tony Wheeler quickly learnt the importance of building a brand and protecting his valuable intellectual property (IP) overseas.

The Lonely Planet brand was originally created by Tony and Maureen on a side table in a hotel room. Wheeler came up with the name while singing the song ‘Space Captain’ written by Matthew Moore. He sung the words ‘Once while travelling across the sky this lonely planet caught my eye’. The actual words are ‘lovely planet’ but Wheeler preferred his version of the lyrics and from this humble beginning Lonely Planet is now one of the world’s most respected and valuable travel trade marks.

To maintain the integrity and value of the Lonely Planet brand Wheeler and his team played an active role in the management their IP by monitoring the market for imitators and taking swift action against infringers. This was part of the reason the brand was so attractive to BBC Worldwide who purchased the remaining 25 per cent stake in February 2011 for $67 million.

It was during the carefree days of their youth in the 1970s that Maureen and Tony Wheeler learned that IP ownership arrangements with third parties need to be clearly defined – after the first profits of their tiny company were eaten away by authors who had retained copyright ownership over their books.

“We realised almost immediately that this was not sustainable business model. It became very clear to us how important it was to control and manage our IP.  Clearly defining the IP ownership arrangements with any third parties or suppliers involved in the business – before they started work was something we started doing very seriously from that point.”

“We started paying writers to go and research and write for us, but ensured that the IP belonged to Lonely Planet’. This was the thing that made Lonely Planet a success story – the integrating an IP management strategy into our overall business and exporting plan. Controlling your IP rights is very important,” Wheeler added.

Wheeler still continues to travel and write for the Lonely Planet and recently gave a presentation at IP Australia on the company’s history—how he and Maureen grew a small Melbourne business in the 1970s into what is now internationally recognised as the global ‘Bible’ for tourists – Watch it now at IP Australia’s YouTube Channel.

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