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IP offices explain hearts and minds approach

Oswald Schroeder owes his job to a mouse

The communications director of the EPO says the IP office was the target of activists who opposed the patenting of the so-called oncomouse.

“Greenpeace launched a big campaign that set the tone for years,” he told Managing IP’s International Patent Forum on Wednesday. “One of the main reasons that I am with the EPO is because of that.”

Schroeder was speaking on a panel alongside communications staff from the USPTO, WIPO and the JPO that focused on the efforts IP offices are making to raise public awareness of patents, and the economic and social benefits they bring.

This year has seen IP in the headlines more than ever before. With demonstrations over ACTA in Europe, website shutdowns in protest against SOPA and PIPA in the US and makers of smartphones slugging it out in courtrooms across the globe, the issue of intellectual property is no longer the preserve of IP professionals. It is now the subject of newspaper editorials, Facebook pages and Twitter hashtags.

The four speakers outlined the measures their IP offices have been taking to inform the debate.

Schroeder said when he arrived at the EPO, he helped move it from defensive mode to proactive mode by trying to tell a different story about IP. One of the first things he did was to launch an annual awards ceremony for inventors and invite the media to cover the stories behind the inventions that were nominated.

“At the beginning 95% of the EPO was negative. They wanted to know why I was wasting the Office’s money on an awards ceremony. Now that figure is the other way around.”

Peter Pappas, chief of staff at the USPTO, said it was important to emphasise the quid pro quo of the patent deal: that inventors are given a short-term monopoly in return for disclosing their innovation to society as a whole.

“It is important to remind folks of that,” he said. “We have recently celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the patenting of the technology of lasers. We have explained that it led to game-changing technology from bar codes to laser surgery.”

But he added that IP owners have an obligation to engage in the debate, and warned them of the dangers of lobbying too hard for an IP regime tipped in their favour. He pointed to the lessons of the debacle over two anti-online piracy bills in the US.

“At some point someone will write a book about SOPA and PIPA,” the USPTO’s chief of staff said on Wednesday. “It will be a significant case study on how not to get a piece of legislation passed in Washington. The MPAA [the Motion Picture Association of America] thought it would play an inside game and get support on the Hill,” he said. “But they went too far, especially on two points, and it all imploded.”

John Tarpey, who heads WIPO’s communication team, explained how the Office is developing a hearts-and-minds approach.

“To get the message across we need to convince all stakeholders,” he said. “There are two ways of doing that: using IQ and EQ. While IQ is about assembling the key facts and statistics about how the IP system works, EQ is about people: because every innovation has a story behind it.”

He said that his job was to help identify those stories and disseminate them and added that the IP organisation has upped its use of social media in an attempt to reach more young people.

“That’s a crucial audience to reach out to,” he said.

Asked by a member of audience whether it was right for IP offices to spend applicants’ money on awareness-raising campaigns, the panel argued that it was – and that it was in the long-term interests of IP owners that they did.

Schroeder said his communication budget is just €2 million, a tiny fraction of the EPO’s total budget of €1.7 billion.

Added Pappas: “In my experience patent attorneys are not reluctant to raise concerns, but I have never heard a single complaint about us spending money on this.”

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