Monday, 28 September 2009

Is IP Being Overloved?

I am a two minds about how to position IP in the larger business context. Does the fact that I engage in IP for mylivelihood skew my view of the role that IP plays in the business world, or do I have a distorted view of its commercial and business importance? No matter how objective one tries to be, the day-by-day exposure to a wide variety of IP matters cannot help but influence the way that I think about it. After all, who does not want to think that he is in the middle of it all (consider what Copernicus went through to disabuse earthlings of this in the cosmological sense).

Encouraged by this sense of importance, I have keenly noted that my weekly magazine of choice, The Economist, seems to giving an increasing emphasis to IP-related matters, particularly in its Business section. I observed this, not for the first time, in its August 29 issue, where all but one of the articles had some IP angle (for those of you who like to count, that means two copyright/digital articles, one patent/pharma piece, and two articles, one on US trustbusting and one on solar power in Japan, both of which demonstrably included IP as part of the analysis.) Take that, Copernicus! Whatever you had to say about the earth, moon and sun, there can be little doubt--when it comes to business and commerce, we IP types really are in the centre of the universe.

IP In the Middle?

And yet, something gnaws at me. Can it really be that, when distilling weekly the world's leading business issues into 6-8, as The Economist does, IP is so central, almost omnipresent? I recognize that this observation is a bit of an admission against interest. Still, it seems that we are now supposedly coming out the worst recession in a half-century, a perfect storm where the real economy tanked in parallel with the world financial system, and IP seems to dominate the discussion. Perhaps it is due to background of journalists who trend to write for the the quality press. After all, IP has an attraction that writing about supply chains and Baltic Dry shipping data do not. Moreover, there are readers to worry about, and the same can be said about them as well.

If I am right, then permit me to offer three thoughts.
1. The media's skewing of the role of IP filters down (or up) to the business setting. What a business person reads in the popular press can have a material effect on their decision-making. Lest you think I am being flippant here, I would love to have a $1,000 for each client that comes to me and announces that "we have to develop more IP" to improve our competitive position. If the media view IP as an elixir, then one better jump on its bandwagon. This is dysfunctional both for the company and for those of us who provide professional services.

2. If we are to be effective in our IP work, then it is no better to more-appreciated than under-appreciated. A sense of perspective is essential, if for no other reason than that a major part of any professional endeavour is to manage expectations. A failure to satisfy unrealistic expectations about what IP can, and cannot do, ultimately will come redound to the detriment of the field and the profession.

3. Oddly, both under-appreciation and over-appreciation seem to be at work at the moment. If one asks WIPO, it appears that the view is that IP is under attack. Consider also the cover story in the most recent issue of Intellectual Asset Magazine--"Brand Broken--How and Why IP Needs to Rebuild its Shattered Image." Maybe it is the case that the view of IP from inside the field is so at odds with the popular perception. If so, there is a lot work to be done on -- on both sides.


Anonymous said...

In my view, the role of IP as a business center of the universe will become ever greater.
In times of crisis tangible assets lose more than their value, while intangibles such as intellectual property rights have a much better position.
For me, the future belongs to companies who gamble heavily on the development of its intellectual property. Naturally for this to happen need solid IP management.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Highest CD Rates said...

I agree with your point, IP is actually the center of business. Whether people consider it important or not, but in current scenario of recession IP comes out as a winner.

FrenchParadox said...

In the field of biotechnology, patents are clearly key for this business which requires huge R&D investments. They are however permanently criticized by NGOs, who are relayed by medias, which then affects the popular perception, but (in my view) essentially on the basis of misunderstandings as to what rights do patents really provide to their owners. I often asked myself if my own perception may not be distorted by my practice, but I could never really find convincing arguments against it (maybe am I really too much distorted...).

As to the "resistance" of IP (my views are mostly patent-oriented), I have the impression that it is not really IP or intangibles which are resisting, but rather the businesses which are making use of IP, i.e. businesses which are truely innovative. Not sure that IP is so centrally seen in speculative businesses... So, the perceived central role of IP in crisis times has probably more to do with the (newly?) perceived resistance of innovation-driven companies (which are definitely making use of IP).