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Think big when assessing IP influence

James Nurton

Tim Tebow doesn’t have a law degree, and Angelina Jolie has never filed a patent. So what are they doing in a list of the most influential people in IP?

We’ve had some interesting feedback about our list of the 50 most influential people in IP 2013, published this month. Most of it has focused on the inclusion of a few surprises alongside the more familiar figures such as Director-General Gurry, Chief Judge Rader and Commissioner Tian Lipu. Some of the controversial inclusions this year are Chaitanya Kanojia, Tim Tebow, Kim Dotcom, Angelina Jolie and “Guy Fawkes”.

First things first: the list of the 50 most influential people in IP is compiled by our editors based on analysis of IP developments and debates, comments from readers and our own experience. Unlike our surveys of leading law firms and practitioners, it does not involve quantitative and qualitative research. It is meant to be informative, entertaining and thought-provoking.

That’s why we try to look beyond the obvious candidates, such as professors, judges and heads of IP offices. It’s also one of the reasons we specifically exclude lawyers in private practice. So what about some of this year’s more controversial figures? The reasons for their inclusion are set out in their profiles, but here’s a few thoughts about two of them.

Tim TebowFootballer Tim Tebow (left) personifies the trend among sportspeople to exploit their talents and fame through branding. We could have included David Beckham, Johnny Manziel, Gareth Bale or numerous other athletes. Their various attempts to protect and exploit trade marks raise questions about ownership, what constitutes a mark, who controls it and the scope of the monopoly right – questions that are pertinent for all trade mark practitioners. Tebow is particularly interesting, given the dip in his performance: will canny branding compensate for on-field failure?

Angelina Jolie’s inclusion was mainly due to her timely contribution to the debate about breast cancer testing in the New York Times, which came just before the Supreme Court’s decision in Myriad (though it’s worth adding that as an actor, director, screenwriter and author she is also a formidable creator of intellectual property). Did Jolie (below) affect the outcome of the case or shape the arguments? No. But did her contribution influence the wide reporting and public discussion about the legal issues, the limits of patents and the moral concerns? We think so, yes. And in a world where social media flourishes, and elected politicians are voting on everything from patent trolls to copyright exceptions, that may be just as important.

Angelina JolieWe have lots of fun arguing about who should and shouldn’t be included in these sorts of lists, and readers will have their own favourites who were omitted this year. But including people such as Tebow and Jolie is a reminder that IP is not now (if it ever was) just a game for a few specialised lawyers, academics and regulators. Not having a masters degree in IP law does not prevent you from voicing an opinion and, yes, even being influential. It was the failure of some people in the traditional IP communities to realise how much things have changed, and how many people now have something to say about IP, that led to the defeat of ACTA and SOPA. They need to learn from those experiences.


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