This article was first published by Law360 and can be found here.
Each year on April 26, professionals from all over the world come together to mark World Intellectual Property Day.
It is a day that aims to celebrate innovation and the role that IP plays in encouraging people and businesses to invest in developing something new or something better.
World Intellectual Property Day was established in 2000 with the aim of promoting awareness of IP protection, expanding the influence of IP protection globally, encouraging invention-innovation activities in various countries, and strengthening international exchange in the IP field.
It continues to grow in terms of participation and engagement. There were 59 countries reporting official World Intellectual Property Day events in its inaugural year, increasing to 189 in 2022.
WHY IS IP FUNDAMENTAL TO INNOVATION?
To understand why protecting IP is so important to innovation, we have to consider the whole innovation chain.
Every innovation begins with an idea that has to go through research and development process before passing through a commercial phase, where the product will be brought on to the market.
IP protection is essential in that process, as businesses will want to ensure that their ideas and information are protected while they prepare to launch their product. They may be spending years and millions of pounds on the research and development process so will want to safeguard their work in that time.
For example, patents, copyrights and trade secrets can be a strategic tool to protect IP from rivals who would try to benefit from exploiting a product. In the commercial phase, trademarks can preserve business identity while ensuring that products stand out from those of competitors.
WHY INNOVATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER
Innovation has never been so important. Developing innovation and the infrastructure that supports it is essential for our ability to respond to the serious challenges facing us nationally and globally.
Innovation assisted by IP rights played a crucial role in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The most evident example is that of vaccine development.
IP laws allowed pharmaceutical companies to protect their research and development of vaccines. This protection incentivised them to invest significant resources into development, resulting in a record-breaking time of less than a year to create and distribute multiple vaccines worldwide.
Likewise, IP rights facilitated the rapid production of personal protective equipment and medical equipment, such as ventilators. Some companies used their IP rights to allow other manufacturers to produce the same equipment under license, resulting in an increase in the production of critical equipment.
Various companies and institutions shared information, research and data on COVID-19 to speed up the development of vaccines and treatments. Governments and international organisations implemented various IP policies to support this, such as the World Health Organisation's COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, C-TAP, which aims to share IP and technology among countries to accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines.
IP continues to play a critical role in addressing the climate crisis. Innovations, such as renewable energy technologies and carbon capture methods, are essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change.
However, without IP protection, the incentives for private companies to invest in and develop these technologies are reduced. By protecting these innovations through patents, trade secrets and designs, companies are encouraged to invest in research and development, bringing new solutions to market and scaling up their production.
IP can also help incentivise collaborations and knowledge sharing among innovators, scientists and researchers across different industries and countries. This can lead to more effective and efficient solutions to the climate crisis, as well as the potential for the global cooperation and partnership needed for climate change solutions.
In addition to these economic incentives, IP can also be used as a tool for promoting sustainable development and supporting the protection of traditional knowledge and cultural practices. Indigenous peoples and local communities often have unique knowledge and practices related to land management, agriculture and natural resource management, which can contribute to addressing the climate crisis.
IP protection can ensure that these communities are properly compensated and recognised for their contributions, while also promoting the conservation of biodiversity and natural resources.
WHY IT NEEDS TO BE A TRULY WORLD IP DAY
The internet has made it easier than ever to create, distribute and access music, videos, software and other digital content. With the internet's global reach and ability to connect people from all over the world, this IP can be easily shared and distributed on a global scale. From a commercial perspective, the world is getting smaller.
This has made it essential for IP systems across the world to be cohesive. If there is no coherence between IP systems, it can create legal and regulatory gaps that could be exploited by bad actors to infringe on IP rights. For example, if one country has weak copyright laws, digital content creators could be more vulnerable to piracy or infringement in that country, which could ultimately harm their business.
Moreover, IP-rights holders need to protect their IP rights online, regardless of where the infringement may occur. There needs to be a cohesive global framework for IP laws and regulations that can effectively address these issues across different jurisdictions and ensure the protection of IP rights in the digital age.
To achieve this, global organisations such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation have been established to help coordinate international cooperation and harmonisation of IP laws and regulations. They are also providing support and guidance to countries on how to strengthen their IP systems to address the challenges of the digital age.
THEME OF WOMEN AND IP
The theme of this year's World IP Day is "Women and IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity." All five technologies that the U.K. government identified in its new Science and Technology Framework as being integral to the country's future growth are fields in which women are currently underrepresented, both at a senior level and throughout an organisation.1
U.K. innovation efforts are missing out on a huge pool of untapped talent and potential. According to the World Bank Group, if women were supported to set up and progress businesses at the same rate of men, there would be economic gains of up to $6 trillion.2
Studies show that teams that are diverse and inclusive are more innovative, and companies that embrace diversity are more profitable.
This is partly due to the fact that a larger talent pool increases the likelihood of generating valuable new ideas. However, a diverse team brings diverse perspectives to the table. Female innovators play a vital role in developing products and processes that cater to the needs of the entire population.
The next few years will see huge growth in female innovators. A key to encouraging this growth is to genuinely facilitate women's progression through events such as World IP Day 2023, which inform women creatives and innovators on how to best protect and progress their ideas.
NEW SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY FRAMEWORK
The importance of developing innovation has not been lost on the U.K. government. It has been vocal about prioritising growth through innovation in recent years, stating in its July 2021 "U.K. Innovation Strategy" that it would be placing innovation at the center of everything the U.K. does.3
This year's World IP Day closely follows the government's publication of its new Science and Technology Framework. This has identified five industries as critical to the U.K.'s future growth. It also sets out the tools that the government plans to use to support those technologies.
The framework sets out several suggestions that many IP solicitors will welcome as steps to encouraging innovation. Crucially, the framework commits the U.K. government to making research and development investments in line with its stated ambition of becoming a science and technology superpower.
Notably, since 1990, research and development investment in the U.K. has constantly been below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average. Other proposals in the framework include:
- Increasing private sector levels of research and development investment;
- Rapid public investment into areas outside of the South East;
- Greater support for innovation clusters; and
- Reduced bureaucracy to funding.
These are all positive indicators that the government is recognising the need for critical improvements to the way the U.K. supports, encourages and, most importantly, funds innovation throughout the development chain.
However, a glaring hole in the framework is the lack of emphasis on IP protection in stimulating innovation. While the framework sets out an ambitious strategy for future growth driven by science and technology, it lacks clarity on the place of IP rights in pro-innovation policy.
From registering a trademark for a company name or product, to start-ups securing investment to fund their research and development, to pharmaceutical companies registering a patent for a new medication - IP rights are crucial at every stage of the innovation cycle. Attracting investors and then protecting that investment helps business to expand, grow and continue to innovate.
World IP Day provides a reminder to push individual innovators and businesses to consider how IP rights can help to stimulate that innovation through protecting their ideas.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE WHITEWATER
The uncertainty on the position of IP was also apparent in the government's recent and much-anticipated white paper on artificial intelligence, which makes scant mention of IP.
The protection of the software and algorithms that make up AI as well as the data that will be used to train it and the product that it outputs are all affected by IP, and this IP is crucial to AI development. Businesses will have significant commercial interests in each of these components at various stages of the AI lifecycle. We are already seeing disputes arise.
AI has the potential to throw a spanner in the works of innovation, as it mandates that we reconsider the question of who owns the rights to an innovation - as considered in Steven Thaler's battles to assert that his AI, DABUS, can be named an inventor on a patent application.4
Given the size of the industry, its potentially transformative nature and its position as one of the five critical technologies in the government's new science and technology framework, the relationship between IP and AI needs to be central in any government policy on innovation.
With the huge leaps made in AI over the last 12 months, and the public attention on platforms like ChatGPT and Midjourney, AI is the current hot topic in the IP world, any many others.
World IP Day 2023 events are sure to make it a focus of many a presentation. This provides a great opportunity to put pressure on policymakers to recognise the priority of having a clear IP policy on AI and also of the potential pitfalls of failing to do so.
To summarise, the government has recognised an important lesson from the pandemic - that supporting innovation is essential not only for growth, but to prepare for or prevent potential future crises.
The key to supporting this innovation is through the protection of it and this is done through IP rights.
World IP Day 2023 presents the perfect opportunity to emphasise that if one wants businesses, investors and innovators to back ideas and creativity, these ideas must be protected.