by Professor Ruth Soetendorp
In a recent article, Manny Schecter, Chief Patent Counsel at IBM and President of the IPO Education Foundation, was right to point out that increased IP awareness does not necessarily reflect people’s genuine IP understanding or their IP literacy. But what does that matter, and to whom?
The ‘general public’ is a complex mix of IP illiterati including people whose IP curiosity will probably never reach beyond a vague awareness of wrongdoing for enjoying illicit downloads or counterfeit designer brands. For them, the education system is beginning to wake up to the importance of including IP references in school citizenship classes. They may never be concerned about how IP fuels our innovation economy or facilitates creative thinking, but they need to be protected from the potential criminality to which their lack of IP knowledge could lead.
Different, but no less lacking in IP knowledge, is the segment of the public whose IP awareness, however vague, has resonated with them. They may be entrepreneurs who realize IP’s relevance to their commercial success. They are the group to whom international and national IP institutions (USPTO, UKIPO, EUIPO, WIPO etc) are keen to make available the short catchy sound bites that may capture attention but fall short on vital information. These resources will never compensate for a lack of a deeper IP understanding. They can trigger an expectation that IP problems will have a right answer, that should be easy to reach.
The public doesn’t need more catchy phrases about what IP rights are. Instead, IP institutions should be braver about telling the public that IP is difficult. They need to encourage a more critical approach by the general public to the IP they encounter, prompting them to think about the relevant questions that could be posed to colleagues, professional advisers or online resources capable of providing relevant information.
College students are a prime target for IP education that will encourage them to respect and question the legal regimes that will shape their careers and enable them to graduate as more enlightened members of society. For them, patents will be important, alongside trademarks, copyrights and design rights. For all, the rules relating to confidentiality and trade secrets have a crucial significance. Faculties are encouraged to allocate time to convey IP education. There is clear evidence that it would be well received. Research that supports this strategy was undertaken by the Intellectual Property Awareness Network with the UK National Union of Students into student and academic attitudes to IP education and IP policies in Higher Education institutes.
A recent approach I have used with participants from the UK’s Arts and Creative industries sector on the Boosting Resilience Arts Council England project, involves using an Intellectual Property Management Decision Tree. The Tree is a graphic representation designed to provide a framework to assist discussion by the general public of an IP issue. Around the roots are listed the intellectual property concepts that may be relevant to the issue. Using the Tree helps if an educator is familiar with the concepts. But if they are unfamiliar the trunk holds addresses of online resources that will provide basic explanatory material. Most important, the branches hold five key questions to be answered when faced with an IP problem. When used by Boosting Resilience workshop participants (senior managers of UK Arts and Creative industries enterprises) feedback suggested the Tree had proved a useful device to stimulate small group discussion of IP problems.
No Easy Answers
Encouraging questions about IP matters challenges assumptions and establishes that there are no easy and few definitive answers. This, in turn, builds confidence to seek out the best advice when faced with IP challenges – to draw upon the best resources. The public may well never fully understand IP rights or how they achieve their intended purpose. That should not deter IP enthusiasts from their responsibility to help the public tackle the big IP questions that are intrinsic to their lives and future.
Ruth Soetendorp is a pioneer in promoting IP education for non-lawyers, across all disciplines. Professor Soetendorp has published research with EUIPO, UKIPO, IPAN and the National Union of Students, and has worked with WIPO, EPO and the EC to bring IP education to the international community. She is currently Professor Emerita and Associate Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management at Bournemouth University and a Visiting Academic at Cass Business School, City University of London.
Image source: epmagazine.com; boostingresilience.net