The Importance of Intellectual Property for Innovation and Society: Getting the Message Out

By Allen Dixon, Director, Ideas Matter

It is so important for people to understanding the workings and benefits of intellectual property – not just governments, businesses, and intellectual property (IP) experts, but also people across society more generally.

Telling stories of real people’s experiences, supplying useful data, providing convincing commentary, and using regular and effective media and internet outreach, can help get the message out to as many people as possible that intellectual property provides important benefits for innovation and creativity, for small and large businesses, for the economy, for consumers, and for society at large.

What’s the problem?

Many people simply do not understand intellectual property, and regularly see references in news reporting and online where even the most basic workings of patents, copyrights and trademarks get confused and misrepresented, which makes the subject even harder to understand.   

What about this tweet that CNN put out:  “PepsiCo is suing 4 farmers in India for copyright infringement, claiming they are growing a variety of potatoes trademarked by the company.” This was actually a lawsuit about proprietary plant varieties, not a copyright or trademark issue. 

Here’s another one: “General Motors has filed two patents for the Cadillac name and badge”.  The intellectual property here was actually trademarks.  

People’s understanding of intellectual property can also be tainted by negative, misleading, and sometimes simply wrong information about particular issues of intellectual property.  Here are some examples of negative headlines that we’ve seen recently:

-    “Patent system often stifles the innovation it was designed to encourage.” The Conversation

-    “Patents prevent vaccines for all.”  Le Monde diplomatique 

-     “Comedian changes name to 'Hugo Boss' in protest against fashion house.” BBC News 

-     “Music copyright lawsuits are scaring away new hits.” Rolling Stone

It’s important to get the message out.

If people only hear negative information about intellectual property, or claims that intellectual property is difficult, unfair, unnecessary or even counterproductive, there can be significant negative consequences.  For example, the ordinary consumer may see no reason not to just use illegal films and music off the internet – at the expense of all the creative people involved and those people’s ongoing ability to provide even more amazing content. 

For small businesses that don’t understand intellectual property, they may miss the opportunity to protect their own inventions and not be able to attract enough investment or to protect against bigger companies that might knock off their products.  And for governments and lawmakers, failing to understand how intellectual property works as a vital building block of their economy may lead to poor decisions about how intellectual property should be protected or enforced. 

What messages do we need to get out?

There are a few major messages that it’s important to get out in ways that people can understand – and these are the precisely the messages that Ideas Matter highlights over and over in its communications and activities.

    1. Intellectual property protection promotes innovation and creativity. 

In simplest terms, intellectual property provides the incentives for a vast amount of innovation and creativity.   For example, studies have shown that having patents increases the amount of research and development that pharma companies do by 25-35% in countries like the US and France.  Small companies are often keen to get patents on their new inventions or trademarks on their branding, because this helps them get investment, get rewarded for their innovations, and continue to innovate.

President Xi of China himself clearly explained this earlier this year, when he pledged to strengthen intellectual property protections in China:  “Innovation is the no. 1 driver for development.  Protecting intellectual property is protecting innovation.” 

    2. Intellectual property is good for companies, small and large. 

Intellectual property is an important mechanism for helping a country’s own companies to be successful – both domestically and internationally.  For example, a 2021 European Patent Office study showed that small and medium companies can benefit even more from intellectual property than large ones.   Small companies that use intellectual property generate 68% more revenues per employee than those that do not. 

Likewise, the EU IPO has found that intellectual property-intensive industries in Europe have 20% higher revenue per employee and pay average wages that are about 19% higher than companies that do not own intellectual property rights. 

    3. Intellectual property is good for the economy.

There are lots of ways that intellectual property protections help the economy, both in developed countries and developing countries – jobs, GDP, growth, exports and economic development.  In the US, the copyright industries alone produce nearly 12% of the US GDP.  In Europe, 45% of all the GDP and 82% of EU exports are generated by intellectual-property intensive industries. 

And developing countries like Malawi are implementing new intellectual property rules and plans to help their own economies.  In the words of Malawi’s new intellectual property policy, “Creating a vibrant intellectual property ecosystem will promote and support creativity and innovation and thereby catalyze industrialization and structural transformation of the economy for our national development.” 

    4. Intellectual property is good for consumers and society.

Intellectual property is also good for consumers and society, in so many ways.  Consumers benefit from the vast array of products and services in virtually every area of human activity that have been developed on the basis of intellectual property protection. Some of society’s most pressing needs—from health care and the environment to better interaction with the government and with each other in the ‘digital economy’—rely substantially on IP for innovative solutions. IP also helps consumers distinguish between different brands, and helps protect consumers from poor quality and dangerous counterfeit items. 

Perhaps the best recent example has been the help that IP incentives have been for the development and delivery of an amazing number of new COVID vaccines to the world in record time.  Intellectual property was not only an incentive, but also allowed the pharma, research, and public sectors to collaborate and share information and technologies in an unprecedented way.  In the words of Thomas Cueni of the IFPMA, “IP is what brought the solution to this pandemic. Patents and intellectual property remain the lifeline for future pandemic preparedness and allow companies to operate at never-before-seen speeds and invest heavily in risky research without any guaranteed reward.” 

How can we get the message out?

There are several ways in which we can and should get these key messages and information out about IP to people, using normal words and telling the story in an interesting and convincing way.   This is what we are trying to do at Ideas Matter, through things like – 

-  Telling stories of real people, for example by interviews with small companies that are relying on intellectual property to bring their new inventions and creations to the world.  

-  Supplying useful data, for example explanations of how intellectual property works, and statistics on the advantages IP provides to innovation, companies, and society. 

-  Providing convincing commentary, for example, our video interview with the head of the Motion Picture Association in Europe, Stan McCoy, where explained why it’s important for people to get their film and video content from legitimate internet sites.    

-  Doing effective media and internet outreach.  Social media is a great way to communicate about intellectual property on a regular basis.  Ideas Matter typically does a dozen different tweets a week on Twitter highlighting how IP works and provides so many benefits.  

It is so important to get the messages about the workings and benefits of intellectual property out much more broadly -- to governments, business, and people at large.  Follow us on our Ideas Matter website, Twitter feed, and video postings – and we hope to meet you again in person at some important IP-related events in 2022!

Ideas Matters’ Director Allen Dixon made these remarks at the online Annual Fordham IP Conference and World IP Forum earlier this year.