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Monday, 5 January 2009

Best practices -- in theory and in practice


Now here's a good idea that doesn't seem to have worked in practice. Split between two vast tomes, Intellectual Property Management in Health and Agricultural Innovation: a Handbook of Best Practices is a handsome addition to anyone's collection of IP publications. The web-blurb promises great things:
"Prepared by and for policy-makers, leaders of public sector research establishments, technology transfer professionals, licensing executives, and scientists, this online resource offers up-to-date information and strategies for utilizing the power of both intellectual property and the public domain. Emphasis is placed on advancing innovation in health and agriculture, though many of the principles outlined here are broadly applicable across technology fields.
Eschewing ideological debates and general proclamations, the authors always keep their eye on the practical side of IP management. The site is based on a comprehensive Handbook and Executive Guide that provide substantive discussions and analysis of the opportunities awaiting anyone in the field who wants to put intellectual property to work.

Come inside. You will find 153 chapters on a full range of IP topics and over 50 case studies, composed by over 200 authors from North, South, East, and West. If you are a policymaker, a senior administrator, a technology transfer manager, or a scientist, we invite you to use the site guide customized for you. The site guide distills the key points of each IP topic covered by the Handbook into simple language and places it in the context of evolving best practices specific to your professional role within the overall picture of IP management".
This sounds too good to be true. Add the sincere commitment of the work's publishers,  PIPRA (the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture) and MIHR (the Center for the Management of Intellectual Property Health Research and Development), and one might imagine a book thatanyone in IP in the agricultural and health fields, or indeed in any other field, would not be seen without.  Yet this book, published in 2007, only came to this author's attention by chance and he has yet to hear anyone in any IP sector even mention it.  A Google search reinforces the suggestion that this book has not made its intended mark: keying in its title, this reviewer got just 770 hits.  Sadly, the book's accompanying blog has just three items on it, of which the most recent was posted just over a year ago, which also suggests a lack of interest -- or at least a lack of identification of readers with the core concept.

What, then, could be the problem? Somehow, the IPKat feels, it's all too much. Any book that is "prepared by and for policy-makers, leaders of public sector research establishments, technology transfer professionals, licensing executives, and scientists" is setting its sights high, since each of these groups has something special to contribute, and something it needs to receive, from each of the others.  Perhaps more significantly, the sort of people who have IP-related problems need a constant injection of little bits of acutely-relevant information more than they need to acquire a grand vision that accommodates and provides a context for the problems they face. 

A bigger problem is that the text contains not only useful information for its intended readers but a good deal of fairly preachy material too.  If you read through the site guide provided for policy-makers, you get the feeling that they are not so much being shown how IP works as being told how to think. 

This reviewer suspects that the real reason why this book failed is that those who supported it didn't observe one of the basics of intellectual property exploitation: before you commercialise your product, get to know your market and see what it wants, and what it's prepared to buy, read or use.  In this instance, one feels that the book reflects supply-led thinking ("get the book out on to the market and people will see how useful it is any want to read or buy it") and doesn't really appreciate how many different readerships, interests and needs it seeks to cover within its mighty span.

The book's website can be found here; the companion blog lives here. The sole (and highly favourable) review, in Les Nouvelles, can be found here. Rupture factor: don't even try to lift the two volumes simultaneously unless you're in training ...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am inclined to agree. But the book is targeted at TT managers and decision-makers in developing countries, and I don't know what they want.

I provided a section for the book (some existing material) which was heavily edited to convert it into US English. I think the editors achieved excellence according to the parameters they set themselves.

handbook said...

Well, I wonder who this anonymous review is. As the editor in chief, I evidently have to disagree vividly and feel the reviewer didn't do his or her homework.

We sold over 500 copies of the Handbook in the US, Europe and Japan. WIPO alone purchased an additional 149 copies. The Licensing Executives Society reviewed the handbook (review available on the homepage of www.ipHandbook.org) and it is surely an excellent review. We received over 3,600 requests for copies from low- and middle-income countries, ALL of which have been fulfilled. Over 6,700 Executive Guides have been shipped. The website is visited an average of 150 times PER DAY. Individual chapters have been downloaded between 2,000 and 8,000 times depending on the chapter.

And wherever I go, someone comes up to me and thanks me for the superb resource and tells me a story of how the handbook has been useful to them. I don't have a systematic impact analysis (which should be done by someone else anyway), but all the evidence points to the opposite of that this reviewer writes.

I guess it shows the limits of google, or rather, of those using google. If you type in the exact title, you get less than 1000 hits. However, if you type in

handbook of best practices innovation health agriculture

you get 43,200 hits. I looked at a cross section of these an all refer to the very handbook the reviewer commented on.

Go figure.

handbook said...

By the way, could you add my name underneath the comment? I forgot:

Anatole Krattiger
Editor in Chief

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