Chess, films and timepieces: a filmmaker’s IP journey

December 2016

By Catherine Jewell, Communications Division, WIPO

At 25, Norway’s Magnus Carlsen is already a chess legend. In 2004, he became the world’s youngest chess Grandmaster at the tender age of 13 years and 148 days. He is the current chess champion of the world.

In the early 2000s, Øyvind Von Doren Asbjørnsen (above), a Norwegian
film director saw Magnus Carlsen, the current World Chess Champion,
in action. Recognizing his genius, he filmed a documentary,
The Prince of Chess, which has been made into the feature-length
film, Magnus, which is currently in cinemas across
Europe (Photo by Jan-Erik Eriksen).

In the early 2000s, Øyvind Von Doren Asbjørnsen, a Norwegian film director and avid chess fan, saw Magnus Carlsen in action and, recognizing his genius, set about making The Prince of Chess. This documentary takes viewers on a fascinating journey into the young player’s life and explores the workings of his brilliant mind. Øyvind’s latest production, Magnus, a feature-length film, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in April 2016 and is now in cinemas across Europe.

In a recent interview with WIPO Magazine on the sidelines of a WIPO Roving Seminar in Oslo, Norway, in October 2016, Øyvind explains how he came to make the film and why copyright is so important to filmmakers. He also shares his views on the importance of intellectual property (IP) in general as he embarks on a new venture that combines his passion for filmmaking with his love of watches.

How did you get into film?

I have always had a passion for film. I graduated from the London Film School in 1987, so it was great to be back there recently for the screening of my latest work, Magnus, which has now been sold in 60 countries.

What inspired you to make a documentary and a film about chess?

I play chess every day, although not at world-class level, and in 2003 I heard rumors here in Oslo about a young boy who was doing incredible things. So I went to see him play. He was unbelievable. I knew his trainer, and asked him to introduce me to the boy and Magnus’s parents. After some discussion we agreed to make a documentary film about Magnus. We started shooting the Prince of Chess, a 50-minute documentary, in 2004. It premiered in 2005 and was distributed internationally on broadcast TV. Then, in early 2013, I began collaborating with a young filmmaker, Benjamin Ree, to produce the feature-length movie Magnus, which is now in cinemas across Europe.

Why did you choose to make a documentary?

I have made both films based on fiction and documentaries. But as Benjamin Ree says, there has never been a better time in the history of the world to make documentaries because there is so much archive material available. I agree with him. People are constantly filming on mobile phones and digital cameras so there is an incredible amount of archive footage available on almost any subject. Sometimes it does require a lot of digging and it can be a challenge to transfer old footage onto modern, digital formats, but the results speak for themselves. By combining archive footage with new material you can tell a more compelling story. That is one of the great things about Magnus. It is filmed over a decade and portrays decisive moments in this incredible young genius’s life. We tell his story in the present tense. Instead of people sitting and talking about how it was, we show how it was. It gives the story more immediacy and the audience a sense that they are following him through his life, and that’s incredible.

Why are IP rights important for filmmakers?

Copyright protection enables the artists that create a film or a piece of music to get their fair share of the revenue that their works make in the marketplace, and this income enables us to make new works. That is why copyright protection is so important. Without it creators simply won’t be able to continue creating. Artists need to be paid fairly.

What needs to be done to tackle piracy?

Piracy is like a hydra. You cut off one head and many more appear. The best way to tackle it is to come up with user-friendly, simple solutions that allow people to enjoy films, music or other creative works easily, legally and at a fair price. It needs to be more difficult to be a pirate than it is to watch content legally. In this respect, Netflix and other platforms such as Vimeo have been a positive step forward. They are not perfect, but they are a step in the right direction and much better than all the money going to pirates.

The film Magnus portrays decisive moments in the life of Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, who at 25, is already a chess legend (Courtesy of

What message do you have for film pirates?

Stop stealing! Although a film, or a piece of music for that matter, is not a tangible thing – you can’t touch it, it’s a digital file – downloading an illegal copy of a film is the same as going into a shop and stealing something. It is theft and people have to understand that. It was very frustrating for me when I discovered that my documentary The Prince of Chess, which I had made available through video-on-demand services at a fair price, was downloaded illegally so many times. Before I got it removed from YouTube, it had been viewed 1.7 million times. If I had been able to get a fair share of that, it would have helped me create more films.

Do you think there is a future for cinema?

Yes, I think cinema is still the best way to see a film. When the lights go down and the story unfolds on the silver screen, it’s fascinating and intriguing. Of course, many prefer to see a film in the comfort of their own home. Apple’s iTunes is now very popular and generates some revenue for filmmakers. There is room for both.

How did you fund Magnus?

The film cost around EUR 1 million to make. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the financial support of the Norwegian Film Fund and the Norwegian Film Institute. That enabled us to attract private investors. It was not easy but we managed and now they will get a nice return on their investment.

What next?

My next project involves making a promotional film about a new line of watches that I am designing and developing. Ever since I received my great grandfather’s watch at the age of 12, I have been fascinated by watches and I’m an avid watch collector. I am fascinated by the precision, complexity and sheer beauty of fine watches, so now my experience as a filmmaker is going to help me pursue my lifelong dream to set up a watch-making business. After travelling to watch fairs in Switzerland and Hong Kong and finding suppliers, I started designing watches. The first ones were launched on Kickstarter in early December. Crowd-funding can be a great way to get a business off the ground and some companies have been very successful in raising funds for similar products. This new venture gives me a chance to marry my film background with my passion for watches. These days if you want to launch a product on a platform like Kickstarter, you really need a film. A well-crafted clip with a compelling back story will, we hope, give the watches greater appeal and a certain meta quality.

Can you tell us about your logo?

The trademark is now registered in Norway and 31 other countries
using WIPO’s Madrid System for the International Registration
of Marks.

Our logo is inspired by the Viking rune sign “jera”, meaning year. It is the rune of success and continuity. It symbolizes the cycle of the seasons and implies movement and change, and was a good luck charm for the Vikings. We thought it would make a fitting symbol for our timepiece. The watch’s clean lines and art nouveau-styled dial, which give it an elegant vintage flair, are inspired by the architecture and natural beauty of Aalesund on the West Coast of Norway, where I grew up. We have a great brand, a great story, a good design and a watch with a quality Swiss movement. Our aim is for it to be seen as a true heirloom that people will be proud to own. So once the business gets established, we plan to distribute limited editions to high-end retail outlets because what we cannot get hold of easily is always more desirable.

And what role does IP play your watch business?

Øyvind Von Doren Asbjørnsen is now using his filmmaking
talents to launch his new line of watches, the design of
which is inspired by the architecture and natural beauty of
Aalesund on the West Coast of Norway where he grew up
(Courtesy of Von Doren(R)).

IP is very important. Of course, as a filmmaker I am familiar with copyright, but trademark and design protection are all quite new to me. When I set out on this venture, one of the very first pieces of advice I received was from an elderly Swiss watchmaker who insisted I should register my trademark. Although many others said I shouldn’t worry about it, I followed his valuable advice and have now registered it in Norway and 31 other countries using WIPO’s Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks. A business really does need to protect its brand, especially in the luxury goods sector, where counterfeiting is rife. Registering your trademark is an important part of building brand value and a reputation for authenticity. It may also make people think twice before copying it.  

What challenges have you faced in setting up your business?

There have been many, like meeting the right component producers and suppliers, traveling to many countries to inspect the quality of the materials and paying attention to a myriad of small details. It has been hard but great fun, and I get to do my hobby full-time every day. And I love the design work.

The good news is that the public is still very much in love with the watch. Although we live in a digital age, people still want a fine analog timepiece with a quality mechanism. Watches are a fashion statement and with this brand, I have an opportunity to build a whole collection of fine timepieces for men and women. Of course, it is not easy, but it is perhaps easier than ever before to build a brand in today’s increasingly interconnected digital world.

What has been your experience in registering your mark?

It was very straightforward. I first registered the trademark with the Norwegian Industrial Property Office and now I am in the process of filing an application to register it internationally through WIPO’s Madrid System. The basic fee for registering a trademark internationally covers three classes of goods – anything beyond that involves additional fees – so I decided to register the trademark for watches (class 14), sunglasses (class 9) and handbags (class 18). The Madrid System is simple to use and fairly priced and that’s very important for an aspiring entrepreneur like me. When I learned about it I was delighted and relieved to learn that we didn’t have to do all the legwork involved in registering our trademark in each of our target markets but could simply file an international trademark registration through the Madrid System. The System also gives us the flexibility to expand protection of our trademark as we build the brand and enter new markets. Being able to participate in events like the WIPO Roving Seminar (see box) has been very useful. I have learned about the various services that WIPO offers businesses, some of which are free of charge. For example, I can’t wait to take a closer look at PATENTSCOPE and the Global Brand Database.

Now that you have taken the leap, what advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers and entrepreneurs?

Follow your dream and your passion! If your passion is really deep and true and the fascination is there, go for it. And be curious. Never be afraid to ask dumb questions.

About WIPO’s Roving Seminars

WIPO’s Roving Seminars Program offers local entrepreneurs, inventors and researchers a unique opportunity to learn about WIPO’s activities, in particular the systems and services that it offers to facilitate the protection of IP assets in global markets.

Since 2013, seminars have been held in over 60 cities, from Auckland to Thessalonica, and from Atlanta to Toulouse. Eighteen cities were covered in 2016 and over 20 are planned for 2017 in response to increasing demand.

The seminars are organized in cooperation with national IP offices and are tailored to the specific needs and interests of target audiences.

The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.