To celebrate World IP Day 2022, Chief Analyst and VP of IP and Innovation Research Ed White shares his thoughts on the global challenges across the intellectual property industry, the exciting innovation pathways ahead, and how young talent can help us address our biggest opportunities in future innovation.
What is the role of intellectual property?
Intellectual property rights – patents and trademarks – propel society by encouraging innovation and therefore reflect its progress. These innovations continuously improve our quality of life – from finding sustainable energy solutions, to advancing technological development, to life-changing medical discoveries.
The enforcement of these IP rights is what often makes headlines; a company owning a patent to a technology or being protective of its brand can very easily appear monopolistic or even abusive. Yet this view misses the hugely important role intellectual property plays in recognizing, incentivising and disseminating technical progress and innovation.
The basic process of obtaining a patent involves an exchange: the state will provide the right to exclude others, but to be valid, it must fully disclose the technology itself – in addition to being genuinely new and not an obvious extension of previous technology. Patent means open.
This is a powerful idea, because each patented invention raises the baseline of what we collectively know as a society. It means that the next idea to be developed, by anyone, is based on the last idea, from anyone. It means that provoking further progress is baked into the system. It means that sitting still on a technology you have an exclusive right to will only work for a while.
“Ownership of ideas – for technical ideas, importantly time-limited – also acts as a way of paying for the talent that develops further new ideas, solving problems and challenges we all face.”
Ownership of ideas – for technical ideas, importantly time-limited – also acts as a way of paying for the talent that develops further new ideas, solving problems and challenges we all face.
The urgent need for technical progress
The challenges we face are fierce. The climate emergency and the increasing scarcity of non-renewable energy sources means we must transition to a sustainable and lower-harm energy infrastructure – from sources down to every energy use case. The destruction of habitats is not just an ecological tragedy, but a human catastrophe as it creates and multiplies food, water and health insecurity.
Funding the solution to these challenges, funding the pay of scientists and engineers, alongside committed regulatory change, is an essential part of how we will transition. In 2022, it is already the case that utility scale energy generation from solar or wind is approaching and in cases below the cost of gas or coal power generation. That cost reduction, adding the economic imperative alongside the moral necessity, creates a snowball effect.
Patents enable and lubricate this development. They can be traded, they can be used as security for finance, they can define technology in a contract. They can be thought of in a way similar to a company registration – creating a legal life for a technology, independent of its source.
In brands and trademarks, their role and public policy reasoning is different: trust. Today more than any time in history, the creation and quality of products occurs far away from us as consumers – we buy online.
That means that the ability of people to assess quality, ethics and service is inherently reduced. The counter to this is brand – the knowledge of who manufactures or provides the items we spend money on. As our economies grow ever more virtual, the importance of distinction only increases.
Career opportunities in intellectual property
As a career, the intellectual property industry sits at an extraordinary nexus of huge importance to our futures.
The role of technology and its intersection with the law. The ethics and boundaries of ownership in a virtual world. The economics of innovation itself. All are wrapped up in the powerful knowledge mix of intellectual property practice.
For those choosing their career path today, the opportunities are incredibly exciting. There has never been so much ability to chart a professional path in IP that aligns with your own interests and passions.
“For those choosing their career path today, the opportunities are incredibly exciting. There has never been so much ability to chart a professional path in IP that aligns with your own interests and passions.”
For the mathematically minded, there are paths that combine with data science, statistics and analysis. The enormous quantity of information available means that guidance, directionality and forecasting is emerging as an important outcome of the IP system – bringing into the 21st century the requirement for disclosure to a whole new level of clarity.
For the entrepreneurial, the business and commercialization aspects of IP remain critical. These are changing fast as more markets and industries come to rely on the power of connectivity, and as the promise of sustainability meets the challenge of economic deployment.
And for the legally minded, the ethics and jurisprudence of intellectual property is a constant process of flux between statute and ideas, steered by legal counsel as they address the challenges of progress. The role of IP rights for their owner, for society and for individuals is key – the balancing of rights and access and use of new technologies and digital/virtual brands.
Patent, trademarks and domains form the system of how innovation – technical or commercial – meets the market, and the inherent risk of that. Will it be useful? Will anyone want it?
The future of IP: the next 20 years
It would be bold to assume we know what the innovation economy of 2042 will look like, but we can estimate the issues, drivers and macro-economics, as they are likely to be the same as the last 20 years:
- The promise of sustainability – buffeted, challenged and enabled by connectivity technologies
- The simultaneous challenge and potential of automation
- The continued focus on health and wellbeing
- The unprecedented number of scientists and engineers
- The entrance of Mainland China to the research and innovation economy
These points link directly to the 17 United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including Good Health and Well-Being (SDG: 3), Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (SDG: 9) and Responsible Production and Consumption (SDG:12).
How all these forces interact and how they affect commerce, consumers and corporations is still to emerge. The evolution of innovation and intellectual property will continue to enrich, empower and protect investment, yet require stewardship that applies the needs of the now over the laws of the past. The next generation of change-makers are ready to use their energy, ingenuity, curiosity and creativity to steer a course towards a better future. That sounds exciting.
About the author
Ed White is a thought leader in innovation measurement and forecasting, and is the head author of the Top 100 Global Innovators™ and Top 100 Best Global Brands programs from Clarivate. A twenty-year veteran of Clarivate and its forebears, Ed has a technical background in electronic engineering, instrumentation and particle/plasma devices. He began his career at Clarivate within the editorial group behind the Derwent World Patents Index™ before moving into professional patent analysis in 2005. Ed has spent most of his career developing new methods of analyzing innovation ecosystems and advised hundreds of corporations, institutions and governments with technology data investigations.