IP Education

The insight “Never underestimate people’s intelligence or lack of information” has been attributed to several people, President Lincoln and Lord Reith, 1930’s head of the BBC to name but two. It is an insight that can be appropriately applied to the world about IP, particularly since only a exclusive minority have any formal education in IP. Which begs the question, when IP is so fundamental to our society, to business, to our personal creations, why is there so little education about it?

That IP is at the heart of business is increasingly becoming apparent to a wider audience. There is a growing understanding that IP can help, or its misuse hinder, economic growth and prosperity. Businesses rely on IP: it is a part of everything they do and a key point of securing value. IP captures value created by the investment of capital. At an individual level we all come into contact with IP every day, whether creating it – and probably not owning it – at work or using it or creating it in our own personal lives. Mostly our own personal IP will be in the copyright associated with artistic or at least personal works we create, our emails and letters for example. So, IP is already around us and we use it regularly, and yet few of us have had any formal education about it.

The same can be said of many of those, typically teenagers, who have been singled out over the past few years for prosecution for file sharing and other forms of copyright misuse. It is unlikely that many can now be completely innocent of knowledge of copyright in works being copied or distributed, though few of us actually ever read or considered the license associated with the music and software we buy. We probably do, by and large, understand the copyright is about copying, but understanding what a “copyright license” is and what it allows to do, and more importantly not to do is likely to be beyond the knowledge of many. It is doubtful that any layman would even be able to define what the principle was let alone say what terms applied to a specific work like, say a piece of software or a video game. Above all there is absolutely no general education as to why IP is important to us all, to society as a whole, how copyright and other forms of IP are used properly and the value they bring. It is likely that most will have the impression of what IP stops you doing rather than what it enables.

To counter this lack of knowledge efforts have been made to passively inform people about IP: governments usually have websites with information on to how apply for patents, trademarks and so on, if you go and look. IP “awareness” is a common phrase in the industry used to describe introducing IP to people. This is usually a high level introduction to what the various forms of IP are, to patents, copyright, know how, and trademarks, and what they protect. In itself it “awareness” is helpful but clearly has its limitations. Notably it says little on the benefits to society of IP and why and how it can support business. The emphasis is more likely to be the functional aspects of IP, the processes for securing registration where it is needed and so on.

There are clearly gaps in the IP Education that available in general education to society as whole, and though more likely to present in business specific education and offered as part of some university curricula, it is likely this will still be at the level of awareness though again it is

not extend far or deeply into the important areas of economic and societal benefits of IP. These lines of education are in themselves encouraging, and equally should be encouraged.

How then will we meet the challenge of education not only our own nation but the world about the importance of IP and the benefits it brings? If there is silence in reply to that question, then we are challenging the silence, and the IP Observer will make all the noise it can.

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