Lack of leadership fuels IP awareness ‘disconnect’ – the high cost of confusion

The IP community, dismayed by poor regard for patents, trademarks and other rights, and confusion over what purpose they serve, have done surprisingly little to bridge the gap between IP awareness and true understanding.    

The latest research by Aon shows that intangible assets, like IP rights, comprise more than five times the amount of S&P 500 company value than tangibles like plants and equipment. Still, senior managements, boards of directors and investors are fixated on tangibles, like plant and equipment. Difficulty identifying measuring intangibles does not make easier to manage them, or address the the problem.

Consumers, the courts and lawmakers are confused, too, and the idea of securing and using IP rights has become unnecessarily contentious, fed by confusion and competition. IP literacy can be improved.


Inventors such as Josh Malone and songwriters such as Taylor Swift have helped to shine the spotlight on IP abuse and to better the opportunities for fellow creators. Some lawmakers, including Senator Chris Coons and Congressman Doug Collins, have made strong IP rights a priority. But for the most part, the IP community has thrown up their hands in frustration.

In perhaps the most important court for IP rights, the Court of Public Opinion, IP leaders have failed.

The uncertainty associated with IP rights such as patents and trade secrets, the increasingly fast-paced and digital milieu, have something to do with it. So does the perception that the only big companies and wealthy individuals (and lawyers) benefit from IP, and that patent “trolls” are ruining innovation.

In the current issue oIAM magazine – my 96th and last regular column for the magazine, begun in 2003 – I share my perspective about what can be done to put IP meaningfully on the radar of CEOs, investors and young people, all of whom seem to share a similar impatience with the barriers they believe IP presents.  The article, “Mind the Gap – The High Cost of Low Credibility.”

Social Contract

“There is evidence that we have started to recover from the devaluation of patents and patent licensing,” I write, in the July IAM, “which was an overreaction to the more level playing field that emerged in the mid-1980s and lasted until the mid- 2000s. This period of opportunity led to innovative enterprises, such as Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google, but also enabled some of those who had built soaring tree houses to pull up the ladder behind them.”

Just as some funds refuse to invest in companies that engage in the sale of tobacco, abuse the environment routinely or do not support equality in the workplace, investors and other stakeholders should draw the line with enterprises that consistently undermine the IP rights of others and consistently fail to respect the unwritten social contract that recognizes the legitimate IP rights of holders. The damage they inflict on innovation, creativity and the economy is subtle but substantial over time.

As IBM Chief Patent Counsel Manny Schecter suggests, leadership starts with us in the IP community. Responsible IP professionals who know better must not only act but lead.

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