Changing the IP System

Conventional wisdom is that if something is working then you shouldn’t change it; “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” as an old English saying goes. The IP system works so why change it? Why is continuing change fundamental to the role and function of IP in our society?

In fact systems with long cycle times like the IP system – copyright is for the life of the author plus a period for her estate, patents take 5 or more years to be issued and have a life of 20 years – need long periods without change to ensure stability for users; business decisions based on patents can be a decade from imagination to fruition so instability risks risk aversion. In this sense change, certainly erratic change, is not in the interest of users. At the same time evolutionary change is necessary because the economic systems that IP is meant to support are changing and the role of components parts of the IP system are shifting, like the increasing and diverse role for copyright in the digital age. Such change is not new, and individual nations have adapted their laws individually or in line with shared international conventions to good effect in the past. Now the challenge is that the pace of change in the economic systems has accelerated, national economies are now bound, and vulnerable, to the global economy, and the IP system is having to cope with the increasingly diverse, and sometimes contradictory, requirements of corporate and individual users.

Squaring the circle and bringing change not late or even just in time, but ahead of time is now the real challenge. The link between IP and economic growth is so strong that keeping up with changes in economic patterns is insufficient, the challenge is now for IP systems to be ahead of the game to facilitate and promote economic growth. This sort of change is not just alien to the current IP system and IP industry it is anathema. The legal system, of which the IP system is part, has found great benefit in slow change; making errors that cannot be reversed can be costly, particularly when it comes to human life. Here the role of IP system has a different dimension to that of the rest of the legal system. The bulk of the legal system is about order and control, regulation and certainty, with clarity and accuracy being more important than speed. Business, and economic growth needs these to a degree but also a dynamism and impulse to succeed. The IP system needs to make a contribution by giving a positive impulse to economic growth, not dragging it back.

The sense in approaching change slowly has led to an inbuilt inertia being created in the IP system, particularly supported, albeit implicitly, by the IP industry itself. The IP industry makes it’s living of the back of the IP system and though change represents opportunity to some, it also threatens established business models for others. Equally, in a system with long cycle times, service adaption is needed when change occurs which is disruptive not just to business models, but to the quality of service offered, which is always a high priority for the IP Industry. In IP quality is not only king, but the breath of life: indispensible. The IP industry has taken its cue from the rest of the legal industry by building on professional standards, and high standards at that. The issue with professions is that they can only address what they have been professionally trained to address. Changes to the system are a problem that professions and professionals can and do overcome. The issue is time, and time more than ever is now of the essence.

The challenges then are to spot the changes needed in the IP systems of not only nations, but also the world, and then make those changes coherently, globally not just in time, but ahead of time, to drive economic growth. The IP Observer is here to bring insights on IP to a wider audience so help meet these challenges.