Declining public trust in innovation: why we should be worried

When this Kat needs to look up a word, he still reaches for his copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary. The tagline on the book's jacket says it all: "The world's most trusted dictionaries." Trust in the brand and the contents of the dictionary are central to this Kat's reliance on this tome. The implication is clear-—trust and IP go hand-in-hand.

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)."
By analogy to public resistance in early 19th century England to the Industrial Revolution, the so-called developed world is showing signs of Luddism (or has been called more recently, 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.
Declining public trust in innovation: why we should be worried Declining public trust in innovation: why we should be worried Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Friday, January 30, 2015 Rating: 5


  1. We're in a time when 'authority' is no longer accepted in the way it was, especially amongst young people. Let's face it there is a lot more lying than there used to be. The average person does not believe politicians or large corporations, and increasingly the media. People are demanding transparency and accountability in everything.

    The article ends with a plea to the IP community to do something about this. However, aren't they part of the problem? Are they objective on their clients' behaviour? Not in my experience.

  2. I agree with Edelman by and large. Reasons for public distrust of GM foods fit in to that analysis; instread of feeding the word, GM helps Monsanto fill its pockets. The only minor point of disagreement is that the pervasive distrust of political institutions overshaows other measures of trust. And as the balance of innovation shifts even further away from EU, and even USA, to Asia, neoLuddism may rise further ?

  3. Interestingly, for this practitioner from the State, the level of trust for each of the three branches of government are at the lowest levels in decades.

    If IP needs "watching" or even "correcting," and those who are doing the "watching" and "correcting" are not to be trusted, what then?

    An additional question to ponder: exactly who benefits from any sense of neoLuddism out there? exactly who is threatened most by game-changing innovation?

  4. It is simply that those who benefit from the efficiencies made possible by innovation usually appear to be big multinational companies, and their shareholders.

    If the effect of the efficiencies made possible by innovation was a cut in the average person's working week to 20 hours, for the same income, innovation would be trusted more. It would be benefitting the many.

    As it is, you have an effect where an ever narrowing caste of individuals is responsible for an ever increasing amount of the value creation - these people work 80 hour weeks. There is an ever-increasing sump of people for whom society has no use, and they are kept quiet with minimal state benefits, for the time being. So why should innovation be trusted, if it causes such an outcome?

    See Jacques Ellul - "The Technological Society".

  5. I would take direct issue with the conclusion advanced by Anonymous @ 15:00.

    I would posit that the opposite is in fact true. Patent systems are known to level the playing field - especially for disruptive innovation - the very type of innovation that provides the biggest advances. The small step incremental advances may favor the large corporations, but those same corporations REGARDLESS of type of advance are best suited for competition that relies less on innovation and more on non-innovation factors like established size and dominance of current distribution channels and the like.

    To point at the steadfastness of standard workweek and the pocketing of the fruits of innovation is to conflate cultural norms and distribution of benefits with the separate nature of innovation in the battle between the established and the newcomers.

    You yourself indicate a confused dichotomy of "for whom society has no use" - At the same time that culturally we are induced to equate "value to society" with the mere amount of hours worked (your own indication) we also "want" the opposite to have some type of "benefit" of rewarding less hours worked.

    You cannot have both. Choose to champion one or the other.

  6. Anonymous at 15:27 says patent systems are known to level the playing field. I would change the "are" to "were". An examiner has recently told me that he felt himself obliged to agree to the grant of something as banal as nailing up a bit of wood simply because the problem solution approach based on the cited prior art worked and the production targets of the other members were then the deciding criteria. So I don't know what you need to worry about. If the trolls from USA are concerned about lack of trust (and the report will inevitably have an American bias in its viewpoint), then they need only come to Europe. The system which lead to the problems there is being introduced here. The doors are opening, opportunity beckons. Alison Brimelow, one of the few presidents I've encountered who knew what a patent was, used to say "be careful what you ask for, you might get it".

  7. I am having difficulty following the logic at post 7:39.

    Starts with a change in verb tense from "are" to "were" but then switches topics without explaining just how "are" moved to "were."

    Also, the new topic is actually a meme of the Big Corp's (the term "troll" was coined by a Big Corp in a smear campaign against a little guy's patent).

    Lastly, the equating of some "American scourge" with the actions of Mr. Brimelow had no logic at all.

    Anonymous @ 7:39, can you try again and step through the logic with a little more clarity?


  8. Adding to the post at 13:43, one reason why the large multinationals have pushed the "Troll" rhetoric so heavily is that the "troll" model disrupts the large multinational (well recognized) methodology of "patent Armageddon."

    The no-operating loss model developed in direct response to the large portfolio "we will have some patent in here to counter sue" threat that large entities would bully small entities with. This innate threat to simply bury the little guy directly reflects an established size - non-innovation competition factor. When the response to any such Mutual Assured Destruction business model emerged, the larger multinationals did not hesitate to sling mud. Independent studies in the US (and studies that directly cast doubt on politically motivated partisan "studies" from the US White House), have verified that there is no such thing as a "Troll" problem.

    One must be diligent in separating out the hype and the propaganda.

  9. Trust is lowest in countries where apathy of the people is highest. They may not like it but the most they will do to challenge anything is the occasionally bleat.

  10. Dear 13:43, the logic of "are" to "were" is that if examination doesn't happen as it should (and the evidence presented suggests that it is no longer happening as it should) then the playing field is no longer level and games can be played differently. The mention of Ms Brimelow, was not equating, rather praising for her foresight. If you ask for more production, you get more production, but do you actually want it? or rather do you want the resulting effects? If you ask for a system based on the US model, then perhaps you get a system based on the US model, but as a knock-on effect, you get the problems resulting from the US model. Is this a good thing? And if it is such a good thing, why are so many people in the US so untrusting?

  11. Anonymous @23:20,

    What evidence are you talking about? How is this evidence allowing you to reach the conclusion that you are reaching?

    All I see is one giant conclusory statement from you.

    Sure, any system will not be perfect, and the shear increases in number of applications will indicate a rise in problems, but you have shown no such basis for your conclusions to be reached.

    Further, the cultural difference alone in the US can account for the "Sue Everyone" indicator of a lack of trust, having nothing at all to do with any change in examination or patent systems.

    You just have not made your case. Yet. I invite you to take a step back, not assume things, and build a logical platform for the conclusion that you want to reach.

  12. Dear equally anonymous at 14:18
    Well, there appears no need for me to build any kind of logical platform, since it is apparent to me that them as don't want to be convinced will not be convinced. None the less, I have come to my conclusion, be it logical or not, and I am every bit as entitled to mine as you are to yours. I think that as soon as the bulk of examiners think of their career rather than the file in front of them, the system will collapse. While I am prepared to admit that there have been examiners in the past who have done this, they have all been promoted to management while the vast majority used to try and take the correct decision. Now even this majority (or as BB would put it, small minority) is being forced to rethink what is the "correct decision" and it seems that they are indeed doing so. The bottom line is that, despite rumours to the contrary, examiners (or should I call them "target achievers" these days) are human and think of their families.
    I think that multinationals, trolls or whatever you want to call them will be able to use and abuse such a system more effectively than the general public, and I think Thomas Jefferson was right in 1813(ish) when he talked about patents being an embarrassment to society, to be granted after due thought. We, as a general populace, have learnt nothing since then but were so far protected to a certain extent, but those who wish to manipulate the system are getting better at it. So under these conditions is trust appropriate?
    In any event, all will surely become clear in the fullness of time and one of us will no doubt be able to say "told you so". I really do hope it isn't me.


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