Author: Marsha Simone Cadogan, PhD (Intellectual Property Rights Law)
A recent WIPO report indicates that two-thirds of the global filings in patents, trademarks and industrial designs came from Asia. These are interesting times. Trends in IP activity is regarded by some as an indication of innovativeness in an economy. But what is innovation? Does innovation and intellectual property mean the same thing? Or is innovation an aspect of intellectual property?
Intellectual property rights give owners specific privileges (when monetized and an effective IP strategy is used) as a reward for bringing their product or service to market. For example, knowledge that a registered trademark protects against counterfeits may encourage a brand owner to do business in markets that they otherwise would not have ventured into. High IP activity in the form of registration only has an effect upon innovation if the IP is active in domestic, regional or international markets. This means that IP registrations brings little value to rightsholders if the IP has no value – value comes from either the possibility of commercializing the IP product or service, or from actual monetization in markets.
There’s an interesting relationship between innovation and intellectual property. Innovation involves a new or different way of doing something, whether this be via a process, the product itself, or in how a service is performed. What does this mean for IP rights? Although very few products or services are actually new, innovation happens in IP when IP registrable products and services re(define) ways that consumers interact with the specific good or service. For example, AI technology is transforming how we interact with our cars, dishwashers, washing machines, and even the window blinds in our homes. With one click on our smartphones, or a voice prompt to “Alexa”, it is possible to activate, or change the settings on many of these devices without physically touching any of them. This may create new brand value and increase brand revenues for these products. It may also allow for diversification of IP portfolio, building new patent-related content for rightsholders. Innovation then, is an aspect of IP.
Is it possible to have innovation without IP? Yes. During the course of any day, there is something about our daily activities, whether at work, home or in leisure that we do differently – either leading to the same result, a better way of achieving the same result, or sometimes it fosters new developments in products or services. For example, a recording artist may choose to have a portion of their singles available on vinyl records, a change from a previous strategy of digital and cd markets only. This action represents innovation in the delivery of the songs, may even create new modes of claiming IP, but still, is not very substantial on the innovation scale. A publisher may change how an online popular e-magazine is formatted, may even add new column features, but no IP is generated from the reformatting of the e-magazine itself, unless new creative works (original pictures, or works of art etc.) are added to the publication. It is also very possible that innovation may have little impact upon revenue. The re-formatting of the e-magazine publication will not turn into more subscription dollars without content that really appeals to the consumer base.
Innovation is essential to IP – it fosters research and development into products (such as pharmaceuticals and medical technologies such as CRISPR), and builds momentum in global markets, but it is not IP. However, for IP to thrive, it needs an innovation-focused economy that has the right eco-system in place – one built on encouraging strong vitality in IP-intensive businesses, while providing reasonable terms for users to access IP-valued commodities. Innovation is a plus for any economy. How we approach and apply IP rights also matters, and really impacts the extent of innovation in the long term.