How can we make intellectual property better understood?


A new video from Ideas Matter and the Center for IP Understanding explores the gaps in people's understanding of intellectual property (IP), why a better understanding of IP is needed, and what can be done to improve IP awareness.

The video features interviews and presentations of business, government and academic experts at the Center for IP Understanding's recent 2020 IP Awareness Summit at the University of California Berkeley. 

What gaps are there in people’s understanding of intellectual property?

“We live in this global, transnational interconnected world where our very notions of property are being challenged every day,” said Tamal Shamoon, CEO of Intertrust Technologies.  Giving that the sharing of ideas takes place at lightning speed, some people ask why should we “chase down” those ideas with intellectual property protection. However, “we still need to tell inventors that the water is safe,” he said. 

There is a “tremendous public perception problem”, said Christine Cochran, Assistant General Counsel of Astellas US, for example, that patents are what is driving the price of prescription drugs. “That is demonstrably false,” she explained.

Part of the reason there are gaps in people’s understanding of IP, said Mickie Voges-Piatt of the Chicago-Kent School of Law, is that we often explain IP only in terms of the law.  To many people, she said, “the obscure language we use is so totally abstract and divorced from the real life of the person we’re talking to that it’s meaningless to them.”   

Why is better understanding of IP needed?

Disrespect for intellectual property is growing, said Gary Lauder, Venture Capitalist with Lauder Partners.  “There is unabashed copying, which is often euphemistically called ‘efficient infringement’,” he said.  “When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.” 

Josh Malone, a successful inventor, explained that intellectual property is imperative for individuals, for policymakers, and for innovation so that inventors can invest, take chances, and do more than they otherwise could simply on the basis of philanthropy or their own limited resources.  “Intellectual property allows us to take chances and break through and create new technologies that wouldn’t exist otherwise,” he explained.

What can be done to improve awareness and understanding of IP?

Other conference interviewees described a number of recent initiatives that are having a positive effect in helping to improve student, business, and public understanding of IP:

-- Public institutions including the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the UK IP Office, the European Patent Office, the EU IP Office have all produced useful materials for IP education from school age through university, said Prof. Ruth Soetendorp of Bournemouth University, the University of the Arts, London, and Cass Business School, City University of London.

-- Four years ago there was no US university or college teaching a full-credit course in intellectual property, said Dr Gary Michelson, M.D., of the Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, which has helped to develop IP course texts and materials.  The University of California introduced such a course three years ago, and now there are more than 300 universities in the US alone that are offering a full-credit undergraduate course in IP or that have incorporated this material into a similar course such as entrepreneurship, he said.

-- The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) offers IP education and awareness at three levels, explained Alfred Yip, a Director at IPOS.  This includes a foundational level that promotes IP awareness among businesses, a second level of customised programs for government agencies and private enterprises, and the most advanced level that works with universities on certifications including a Masters of IP and Innovation Management, and a specialised certificate in intangible assets management.  

-- The State of Georgia was the first US state to do IP education among its K-12 school children, said Scott Frank, President and CEO of AT&T Intellectual Property.  It has also formed a University IP Alliance that includes about 30 universities that meet together quarterly.  “Our goal is to have every student in the university system to get a basic understanding, a basic awareness of intellectual property,” he said.  “Every job, no matter what you do, is going to touch on it, and if you don’t know what you’re doing you are going to potentially get yourself and your company in a lot of trouble.”

-- “The program I’m most proud of is our integrated masters program,” said Bo Heiden of the Center for IP Studies, Gothenberg, Sweden.  This approaches IP from a business perspective that focusses on building a knowledge-based business, and puts different groups of people including lawyers, engineers, bio students and designers together to discuss what they want to achieve, what knowledge needs to be developed, and how that can create value including by the use of IP. 


In short, said inventor Josh Malone, “We’ve got to educate people that we need the incentives, we need the rewards, we need ownership – intellectual property is property which means you own the rights to your creations.… That will encourage more creations which will then be propagated and everyone can enjoy.”

You can watch the full video here.  You can find information about the this and previous IP Awareness Summit events here, and about the Center for IP Understanding here.