Editorial: A lack of IP understanding
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Editorial: A lack of IP understanding

The challenge of how to improve understanding of intellectual property was discussed by Manny Schecter, chief patent counsel at IBM, at the Second Annual Intellectual Property Awareness Summit in New York on November 29.

Increasing awareness is one thing; increasing understanding something else entirely, Schecter said. He believes the general level of awareness is higher than before.

"In my mind we have a kind of conundrum," he said. "I think awareness about IP is in many ways increasing but I don't think real literacy and real understanding is on the same trajectory. It might be increasing but it isn't keeping up, that's for sure. That confusion, that lack of understanding, isn't the sole cause but it enables the lack of respect for intellectual property."

Importantly, however, Schecter noted: "I don't think awareness and understanding are the same thing. We can be aware that there is such a thing as patents, trade marks and copyrights and have a sense of what they do but not really understand them, and not be literate in them. A lot of the public are aware but not really literate."

This lack of understanding is a result of a variety of reasons.

"Intellectual property is hard," said Schecter. "It is not an intuitive subject to many people. Every one of us has seen articles where the types of intellectual property are used confusingly – where patents, trade marks and copyrights are used interchangeably, incorrectly so, because it is obvious the author didn't really understand fully what he or she was writing about."

On the patent side, people often get confused about various aspects of patents, such as the difference between filing and grant date. "All understandable," noted Schecter.

Those who are intimately familiar with IP do not necessarily help the situation: a second area of confusion, according to Schecter, comes from the public debate around IP. "We argue vigorously for positions in the intellectual property world, and we have a tendency to use a lot of rhetoric and take a lot of extreme positions in trying to make our point," said Schecter. "Sometimes we actually want that extreme position and sometimes we are just trying to get our point across."

Schecter urged the audience to close the gap between awareness and understanding by increasing the level of understanding. "We have to figure out how to optimise the benefit of intellectual property," he said.

Schecter believes that people who say that intellectual property is somehow hurting innovation are really saying is it is not achieving its optimum promotion of innovation.

"If we are actually going to get people understanding intellectual property we have to overcome confusion, we have to overcome misinformation, we have to overcome our own rhetoric and we have to overcome pressure from our clients. Just speak honestly and respectfully. Our innovation economy, our national security, frankly our everyday creature comforts may depend on it," he said.

"Those of us that really understand IP should feel an obligation to teach the others that need to know about IP but don't, to help them learn. If we want our competition to respect our IP, we need to respect theirs. And for other countries to respect US IP, they should see us in the United States behaving the same way towards each other. That sounds like something a parent would tell a child but I mean it sincerely."

Michael Loney

Managing editor

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