Guest Post: Intellectual Property Makes It Happen

By James Pooley, Deputy Director General at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
(Originally posted on IP Delivers)

We all know that intellectual property covers a lot more than just patents.  Consider copyright (Bollywood, Hollywood and Nollywood), trademark (Nike, Adidas, and Asics) and design (Apple, Samsung, and Phillips). But patents tell us a lot about how IP actually works to amplify the efforts of creators and inventors and provide direct benefits to the public. So let’s take a look at how patents make that happen.

The most compelling reason for patents is to create an extra incentive for the would-be inventor. Abraham Lincoln, the only U.S. president to hold a patent (for a device to raise boats in shallow water—you can see it in the Smithsonian) said that the patent system “adds the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.” While it’s been argued that the “incentive effect” of patenting varies from one industry to another (for pharmaceuticals it’s very important, while for software not so much), clearly it matters broadly in the United States, where individual inventors account for almost 30% of applicants.

But it’s not just about the incentive to invent. In today’s hypercompetitive markets, the journey from idea to marketplace goes through the “Valley of Death” where product failures, marketing challenges and unfair competition can wipe out the entrepreneur. Having patent protection buys time with exclusivity and makes it possible to raise financing and mitigate those risks.

And there’s a real payoff for the public here too. By encouraging innovation, the patent system brings technical solutions to the market.And because all patents are published, they provide a database of evolving technology for all the world to see, including other would-be inventors. So patents don’t just protect; they also teach.

Let’s consider a couple of examples. Dean Kamen, perhaps most famous as the inventor of the Segway Human Transporter and the stair-climbing wheelchair, is one of this country’s most prolific individual inventors. He got his first patent as a teenager, and now has more than 200. Dean’s focus on “changing the way we live and work” has not only brought fabulous new technology to the public; he has also inspired others to use the patent system this way.

One of those was Grant Ryan, who imagined a more sane and green commute, and was influenced by the Segway to create his own innovative transportation device, the YikeBike, the first collapsible, and most compact, electric bicycle. It was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the world’s top inventions of 2009.

While patent laws are national, business is global. That’s why 146 countries now belong to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Through the PCT, inventors in any of those countries can file one application in one language, and get thirty months to go out and raise money, find partners and fine-tune their invention. Besides running the PCT, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) addresses global challenges with patent-based programs to create a marketplace for sustainable technology (WIPO Green), to collect IP to fight neglected tropical diseases (WIPO Re:Search) and to make it easier for developing country innovators to access scientific information (ARDi).

We know from experience that patents are a terrific innovation accelerator. Used in conjunction with other intellectual property tools, patents can help a business of any size become more profitable, grow its markets, and add jobs. And working together, we can use the global system to help confront global problems. This is how IP delivers to all of us.

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