The Future of the IP Industry

One of the big challenges for IP, and in particular the IP industry, is IP being the oil of the 21st Century.  With IP being a core strategic asset for business large and small, across the world, the IP industry needs to step up, to match the role.  The IP industry has been a relatively small, close knit community for the past 100 years or more, with professional reputation being the key ticket for entry into one of the world’s more exclusive and obscure fraternities.  Today transparency, often driven by external pressure like accountancy practices, is on the increase.  Still the IP industry remains as obscure as the product and services that it offers.

In bygone times (for which read the late 20th Century) large swathes of industry, notably the electronics and telecoms industries, where dominated by broad cross-licensing.  In essence, the valuable IP of one company was just set as a block against the valuable IP of another company.  Easy, simple, and agreed amongst a circle of powerful men – no women heads of IP at that time – who legend has it would meet in darkened rooms to measure the height of each other’s pile of patents, to ensure that every one was playing the game: each company investing equally in IP and then everything being offset.  However unlikely these stories are, they do convey correctly the image of an industry which was insular, self contained and almost wholly sought to exclude interference.  An industry whose intent was not malign or self serving.  The IP industry simply knew best, and believed it was best left alone.  If anything it was the perfect form of government: benign dictatorship by a meritocratic elite: sound minds pursuing sound policies, quietly.

The IP industry has come a long way in the last quarter of a century.  As IP has become “sexy”, even cult, and the value of IP as asset has become apparent, the IP industry has had to open up, explain itself more and lose some of its more archaic processes.  In doing so it has lost some of its dusty image.  All this has been good for the IP industry and the professionals within it.  Increasingly, IP professionals have diversified into providing new, specialist services, with the status and rewards to match.  IP will always need specialists, whether skilled patent attorneys, or brand analysts or technology transfer specialists.  IP at its core is a complex subject which requires close attention to even get to grips with a small part of it.  The IP industry is made up of a collection of highly able, highly qualified experts, professionals.  Even the few stray duds cannot hide that the IP industry is one of the most qualified in the world.  And yet the very nature of the structure of the IP industry gives the industry a problem, and serious one.

While each flavour of professional tends to herd together in there is nothing that unifies the industry as a whole.  No one group sets the overall agenda for the industry, and each professional group will run its own agenda, with little recognition that they are part of a larger global industry.  Co-operation between professional groups is growing but this is not the issue.  To be able to keep pace with the needs of its customers – another relatively new concept – the IP industry needs to adapt as a whole with one purpose. This is beyond the job description of the highly competent and professional individuals that make up the industry.  In fact some, perhaps the majority, would not yet see themselves as part of an industry.  They would see themselves as a specialist in a unique and separate function, a trademark creator and enforcer, a copyright licensor, a patent data specialist.  Each providing the highest class of service; professional and peerless, but separate, discrete, each not seeing itself as part of a larger integrated industry.  Yes, each will see and understand is place in its own value chain, but the complex interwoven chains of the IP industry are barely seen as a whole, let alone led, managed and directed cohesively.

Of course, such a disability has not blighted other industries to the point of failure. The financial industry, a simpler, but no less professional industry, lacks overall coordinated leadership but that has not impeded the industry’s growth to become a leading and vital part of the global economy.  Whether a lack of cohesion played a role in the early 21st Century vulnerabilities of the industry and ultimate economic crash is open to debate, but not here.  Here the debate is about the future of IP; the future of the IP industry.

Can the IP industry live up to the billing of its product?  Can the industry support, enable, create the value from one of the world’s greatest resources: our minds, so that IP is “The Oil of the 21st Century”?

Follow the IP industry’s evolution here.  Join in the debate.  Be part of the future.

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