|Pioneer -- but was he first|
a pirate or a parvenu?
Pioneers, Pirates and Parvenus – IP v Innovation
Value comes from resources and there are two kinds of resource: physical and intellectual. Mere access to physical resources – raw materials, say – can provide value, and only when location or extraction of a physical resource becomes competitive does innovation cease being marginal. For intellectual resources, however, innovation is the sole creator of value. As the UK only has intellectual resources, therefore, innovation is everything.
With this in mind, and in its never-ending quest to find a British iPod, the UK government has commissioned another report, this one led by Prof Hargreaves, which seems to ask the slightly wrong question “How can IP promote innovation and growth?” The problem of stimulating innovation is of course fundamentally unrelated to the nature of the legal system protecting it, and if this is the goal then the nation must be tasked with creating the necessary culture of creativity, risk taking and adventure. IP is useful but peripheral – innovation leads IP; not the other way around. What is useful is ensuring that the framework IP provides (and I’m focusing on patents) is properly thought through.
At one end of the IP spectrum sparkle the pioneers. These iPod-creating, dual cyclone-reaping entrepreneurs have ideas so world-beating that there is often a clear patent playing field, and a reasonable monopoly is enough to merit the research and investment underpinning their success. The patent system is well designed to provide this, and given the funding to support development and the relatively modest proportion spent on protection, the system has rewarded their creative/ risk-seeking adventurous handsomely and fairly.
At the other end lurk the pirates. The IP system is again very effective, as long as technology can keep up, at stopping plain, sometimes criminal copying. Here again it seems fit for purpose.
Which leaves us in the middle with the legitimate latecomer competitor, the provider of an alternative approach, the parvenu. Unlike the pioneer, they are not moving into uncharted and unclaimed territory, but a region cluttered with patent thickets and landmines. Yet unlike the pirate, they are just trying to carve out a fair slice of the action. An advantage is certainly that the market is established and the rewards are quantifiable – the risk has shifted from a commercial to a legal one. The problem that the latecomer has, therefore, is of uncertainty. If they knew they couldn’t do something, they’d move on, but what they face is a game of percentages, endless waiting and painful legal costs while they establish a rough idea of FTO.
So at the highest level IP v innovation can be boiled down quite neatly. First, innovation leads, and this is a cultural issue beyond Hargreaves’ remit. For those who’ve “got” innovation – the pioneers - it’s then about funds, to develop to market, and to get the good advice, often with little third party IP in the way. For the parvenu it’s about timely clarity and a good understanding of where they can safely compete. And for the pirate – hopefully – it’s about time they gave up.
Wishful thinking, or cruel deception?
The government can help therefore. The system at either end is fine – it’s clear how we can get patents, and it’s relatively easy to stop straight rip-offs. The problem is in the middle. We need an accessible and educated market for raising money to fund innovation – simple and early exposure to potential investors and respected metrics for evaluating the value of intellectual assets can provide the platform for exploitation of a great idea. We also need a faster way of resolving uncertainty about potential infringement, whether through limiting the remedies or improving mechanisms such as declarations of non-infringement. With these in place we’ll be able to exploit our intellectual resources more readily, and with less fear that they’ll turn out to be someone else’s.The IPKat hopes to hear from those pioneers, pirates and parvenus who read this weblog: has Gwilym got it right?
Ideally this will lead to upwards mobility in our strange IP class system: pirate becomes parvenu; parvenu becomes pioneer. As for where the pioneer goes, well they’ll do fine whatever the framework, and if the outcome of Hargreaves is a few more of them then it will have been an unmitigated success.