Friday, 24 March 2017

How much intellectual property is a good thing?

The World Intellectual Property Organisation tells us that it was a Record Year for International Patent Applications in 2016 and that there was "strong demand" for international trade marks and registered designs. Applicants from the U.S. led the patents field, as they have done for 39 years, with Japan second and China third. “In an interlinked, knowledge-based global economy, creators and innovators are increasingly relying on intellectual property to promote and protect their competitive edge around the world,” said Director General Francis Gurry, which actually strikes me as such a bland statement that it was hardly worth saying. Of course there is no way of measuring success qualitatively, so a crude quantitative measure is the only one available, but even so it is surely a mistake to consider more patent applications to be unequivocally a good thing.



The days when patents protected big inventions passed a long time ago. I doubt that any of last year's PCT applications were for today's equivalent of the steam engine or the hovercraft, or even the dual-cyclone vacuum cleaner. There might be a blockbuster drug in there somewhere, and that should be a matter for celebration when (and if) it becomes apparent, but the mere fact that thousands of patent applications have been filed is meaningless in terms of technological development and benefit to human kind (although one can understand why patent agents, patent attorneys and patent office bureaucrats might be pleased). Please don't confuse the number of patent filings with the amount of innovative activity in the world - much of it is probably mobile phone companies building their portfolios, the better to defend themselves (or counter-attack) when they are sued for infringement by their competitors. Not an edifying use of the intellectual property system, IMHO. But applauding the number of applications rather than the real achievements of patent protection is another symptom of the modern disease of confusing means and ends.



One interesting fact emerges from reading to the end of the press release: the Hague Agreement is most-used for furniture designs, and the leading user of it is a Dutch company. Who'd have thought? But then again, who'd bother with a registered design to start with? What is there in furniture design that's truly novel? No doubt I am missing something ...



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