But what happens when trust can longer be taken for granted? A recent publication that appeared in connection with the launch of the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer sends a clear warning. The Edelman Trust Barometer is one of the most keenly-awaited reports in the area of public sentiment. For 15 years, it has tracked the degree of trust held by the public across 27 nations in various global institutions, particularly in government, business, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and the media. Over this period, the Trust Barometer has shown several clear trends regarding the level of public trust-—NGOs on the rise, media down somewhat, government bouncing up and down and government cratering in the eyes of the global public. Until recently, there was a bit of a balancing act going on; much like a hedge fund, a decline in trust in one category of institution tended to be offset by a rise in trust in another. No longer is this case. As Philip Edelman has reported in his paper, Earning the Right to Innovate, "now we see an evaporation of trust across all institutions", as all institutions seem to be unable to offer solutions to the acute problems of our time. Lest Kat readers conclude smugly that while this is interesting, it does not affect them, consider Edelman's further observation:
"There is a new factor depressing trust: the rapid implementation of new technologies that are changing everyday life, from food to fuel to finance institutions."More particularly, the respondents across the board, by a two-to-one margin, are of the view that new developments are moving ahead too rapidly and that there is insufficient testing of new developments. More tellingly, more than half (54%) felt that the real "impetuses" for innovation are not to make the world a better place, but simply that innovation is good for business growth, or even worse, that it is simply a tool to satisfy the innovator's greed. In light of these findings, the claim made by Jeff Bezos in an interview with Foreign Affairs magazine, as reported by Edelman, that “[n]ew inventions and things that customers like are usually good for society”, seems scarily off the mark. At a more granular level, Edelman's report showed that trust levels in genetically modified foods and hydraulic fracturing are at the bottom of the table (in the 30% and 40% range, respectively), with electronic payments and cloud computing (50%) and personal health trackers (69%) enjoying somewhat higher levels of trust. On the one hand, the public yearns for more governmental regulation, but paradoxically the public has little trust that government has the capacity to do so in an effective manner. The public's fear of the unknown has been joined by a growing concern that innovation, as carried out by business, is moving too quickly. No wonder the public's views seem so confusing.
Okay Kat, but what about IP? Yet another observation by Edelman paves the way:
"The Trust Barometer confirms a direct correlation between the trust level in a country and its willingness to accept these innovations. At the top of the list of trusters are the United Arab Emirates (UAE), China, India and Indonesia. At the bottom are several nations in Europe including Germany, France and Spain, plus Japan and Korea. There is a profound difference between the attitudes in developed and developing worlds, with the greater acceptance of the technological innovations in developing markets (77 percent versus 44 percent)."Neo-Luddism), this time to innovation. If we assume that IP, and its creation, protection and commercialization, are the hand-maidens of innovation, then the precipitous decline in acceptance to innovation in at least part of the developed world augurs a long-term threat to the acceptance of IP as well. A public that loses its faith in innovation will sooner or later jettison its support for the legal instruments that support such innovation. The United States does not appear at the bottom of Edelman's nation list of innovation skeptics. Against that backdrop, it is worth pondering whether the challenge to patent trolls and the narrowing of patent protection following the Supreme Court's decision in the Alice case, shows that the US is decoupling or coming closer to the innovation-skeptic position. Edelman is not prepared to thrown in the towel in the face of innovation skepticism in notable parts of the developed world. He urges as follows:
"To invent is not enough. Companies need to demonstrate that innovations are safe based on independent research. There must be a commitment to evolve the product based on consumer experience and feedback. The new product or service must be shown to be good for society, with transparency on the results of the innovation. We will not soon see an uptick in attitudes towards institutions. Therefore, if innovation is the lifeblood of the modern corporation, business must move beyond the WHAT to explain the WHY and the HOW."Whether this will come to pass is anybody's guess. Given, however, the potentially corrosive effect to IP by continued public mistrust of innovation, the IP community might consider becoming more engaged in these kinds of activities.