Why cooperation and public outreach is key for expanding innovation at IP offices

In a unique preview of the upcoming WTR Special Report "Next-generation innovation at IP offices" – set for release next week – we present three exclusive extracts from major trademark office leaders on how they are using public outreach and collaboration to further their message.

WTR’s next Special Report will feature a host of exclusive content focused on IP offices, innovation and accessibility. A major element of the report will be the 2022 edition of the IP Office Innovation Ranking, which ranks 60 registries by the various non-core tools and services that they offer to users. It will also feature exclusive articles written by representatives from the EUIPO, the IP Office of Singapore (IPOS) and the UK Intellectual Property Office, as well as from the director general of WIPO, the former head of the Chilean National Institute of Industrial Property and the founder of the International Intellectual Property Standards Group.

Today, we share insights from three of those contributors on why cooperation between IP offices is so important – especially in a world so defined by covid-19 – and how agencies are connecting with different stakeholders in an effort to spread the trademark message both in their local markets and further afield.

Daren Tang, director general of WIPO:

A fundamental challenge for all of us in the global IP community is connecting our work and mission with a broader and more diverse range of stakeholders. Rather than engaging with fellow IP experts and specialists only, we must make a much stronger effort to make intellectual property relevant at the grassroots level. We should also strive to make the IP system more inclusive, so that we not only address the inaccurate perception that intellectual property is an obstacle to social outcomes, but also make it relevant to everyone, everywhere.

One concrete example is with women. Despite steady progress in recent years, women still make up fewer than one in five inventors listed in Patent Cooperation Treaty applications. At the current pace of change, gender parity in patent applications will not be achieved until 2058.

Leaving out women innovators means excluding the innovative potential of half of humankind, in a world where we need more innovations than ever to overcome our common challenges. For this reason, it is vital that we work together to scale up our collective efforts to make intellectual property more inclusive for all. Earlier this year, I joined heads of IP offices from Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica and Chile to launch the Latin American Network on Intellectual Property and Gender. Already other IP offices are participating in this network, and we hope to encourage similar movements in other parts of the world as well.

WIPO also plans to spend more time and effort reaching out to young people, who are not only future innovators and creators but make up a large proportion in developing regions like Africa, where 65% of the population is below the age of 30. Young people around the world are increasingly comfortable with technology and the digital world, and we need to make them feel that intellectual property is a tool that can help them reach their aspirations.

Therefore, next year’s World IP Day will centre on the theme of “IP and youth – innovating the future together”. Additionally, WIPO has recently launched its inaugural Young Experts Programme, with the aim of bringing talented young professionals from all over the world to spend two years in WIPO and to give them exposure and training in intellectual property and administrative matters, in order to develop the next generation of global IP leaders.

Lastly, we will make a stronger push to support SMEs. SMEs play a critical role in the global economy, accounting for 90% of all companies in the world, employing 70% of the global labour force and generating up to half of global GDP. And yet, a recent study by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the EUIPO found that only 9% of SMEs in the European region are using intellectual property to grow their business. It is highly likely that this figure is the same, or lower, in other regions of the world.

To address this, WIPO is committed to stepping up the support it provides to SMEs. Raising awareness is one aspect of this approach. This year’s World IP Day focused on the theme of “SMEs – taking your ideas to market”. We are developing a range of initiatives supporting SMEs to identify and leverage their intellectual property successfully. These include the recent launch of a new IP diagnostics tool in November, which enables SMEs to identify their IP assets and how they can be used strategically to spur business growth.

Rena Lee, chief executive of IPOS:

Making intellectual property accessible to all IPOS users also brings intellectual property to a broader audience in order to support its objective of building a Singapore where innovative enterprises use intangible assets to grow.

IPOS works with various partners to promote intellectual property among enterprises. In 2020 it collaborated with the Singapore Business Federation to develop the Workforce for IP-Savvy Enterprises programme to equip companies with IP skills, giving them the capabilities to capture new business opportunities. The programme has benefitted nearly 20 groups to date.

IPOS also works with other organisations on non-IP events, including business conferences with a more financial and technological focus, highlighting the importance of intellectual property for enterprises in valuation, finance and internationalisation. Examples of such events include the IVAS IVSC Business Valuation Conference, organised by the Institute of Valuers and Appraisers Singapore (IVAS) and the International Valuation Standards Council (IVSC).

The annual IP Week @ SG, organised by IPOS, is another example of how IPOS is going the extra mile to reach out to a broader business audience beyond the IP and legal fraternity. Attended by businesses, IP offices and practitioners, academics and creators, the event covers relevant business, finance and legal IP topics. This year’s hybrid event saw a record-breaking 10,000 attendees from over 50 countries across the different webinar sessions.

IPOS also spearheaded the development of the Singapore IP Strategy 2030, a 10-year blueprint to strengthen Singapore’s position as a global IP hub and to maintain its position as a top-ranked jurisdiction for intellectual property. The plan was developed to provide a roadmap for all industry partners and enable innovative enterprises to better protect, manage and commercialise their intellectual property.

To promote IP awareness among students, IPOS organises regular talks, such as the Future Leaders in Innovative Transformation initiative. To date, this has reached out to more than 600 students from various higher learning institutes.

To further emphasise the message that intellectual property is not only for legal practitioners, IPOS also uses social media and communications campaigns to create greater awareness among a broader audience.

This strategy aims to make intellectual property fun, exciting and easy to understand. An audience-centric approach is used to determine the messages and creative concepts, with trending topics often used as a starting point. For example, IPOS recently utilised the craze over Netflix’s hit series Squid Game to raise awareness of copyright and infringement.

Presenting intellectual property from a business perspective is another way to grab attention. IPOS has created a cartoon character called Bella, an entrepreneur in the honey business, to illustrate how business owners can use intellectual property to create growth, releasing a video on Bella’s BEEsiness.

Promoting innovation at the national level requires a multi-pronged approach and necessitates working with multiple stakeholders. While not easy, it is necessary if countries are to derive the most value from their innovations. Nobody wanted a global pandemic; however, the changes wrought by covid-19  have created opportunities for intellectual property.

Christian Archambeau, executive director of the EUIPO:

In our post-covid-19 world, this cooperation is now, more than ever, moving towards open innovation. The accelerated rate of digitisation around the world has shown the need for IP offices to reinvent business workflows and corporate cultures alike.

The EU Intellectual Property Network (EUIPN) relies on an open cooperation model – namely, a decentralised approach to innovation that is based on the fact that knowledge today is widely, and easily, distributed. This approach allows the EUIPN to assess the impact of new technologies and evaluate how business is conducted around the world.

From the outset, the network realised that cooperation on IP rights requires more than a legal framework. Cooperation must be built on partnerships, trust and a united effort in order to become truly aligned with the interests of businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Among these EU-funded projects, the three IP Keys covering China, Southeast Asia and Latin America support EU businesses by improving the level of IP rights protection in these countries. They do so through different awareness-raising campaigns and enforcement activities featuring top European IP experts, providing a launch pad for the expansion of the EUIPO’s flagship tools such as TMview and DesignView, as well as front-office systems.

The EU-funded team also co-funds and implements four additional projects with the European Commission:

  • Arise + IPR (covering Southeast Asia); 
  • CarIPI (covering the Caribbean); 
  • AfriPI (covering Africa); and
  • EUGIPP (covering Georgia).

This cooperation model has made it possible for IP offices to trickle down technological developments, starting within one IP office and spreading to others. Similarly, it has sparked significant efficiency gains in what are perceived as low-value areas of work, which, in turn, enables examiners and staff from IP offices in general to concentrate on tasks that add more value.

By the end of 2021, more than 900 common IT tools will be implemented within the European Union, strengthening not just the digital transformation within IP offices, but also areas such as project management, adherence to leading international standards on management and the environment, to name a few.

Convergence is another key success factor for the network, limiting situations where similar trademark and design applications are treated differently. To date, 12 common communications have been agreed upon and these have been widely adopted throughout the European Union, taking us a step closer to a more simplified IP landscape for EU companies.

Financial investment in the EUIPN has also grown exponentially. In 2010, the network was initially financed with a five-year €50 million trust to invest in modernising the EU trademark and design systems. The fund concentrated on delivering a full suite of new services and tools that focused on bridging the gap from analogue to a fully digital operating system. Today, the EUIPO invests nearly €50 million annually on cooperation, tools and practices, as well as off-setting payments for IP offices throughout the member states. This represents more than five times the initial investment made in 2010.

The EUIPN is expected to continue to be a driving force for intellectual property in the future. It will continue to integrate the different elements of the innovative ecosystem, starting with the EU innovation and digital policies, which consist of services offered locally to SMEs, engagement partners and multipliers, across the board.

Enlarging the cooperation focus

In addition to cooperation with the EUIPN, there are many examples of the EUIPO’s support for the IP community when it comes to trading outside the European Union, integrating knowledge and utilising the valuable feedback received from our global community.

The EUIPO’s international cooperation efforts are, therefore, the ultimate open innovation strategy that serves to globally amplify the focus on innovation. This cooperation takes various forms:

  • bilateral cooperation between the EUIPO and non-EU IP offices in third countries;
  • cooperation with the TM5 and the ID5 partner offices;
  • implementation of EU-funded projects at international level; and
  • the secondment of IP experts.

In parallel with this, the EUIPO’s Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights also plays a vital role as one of the key building blocks of a more connected innovation ecosystem. It strives to build bridges between academics, IP professionals, intermediaries and enforcement authorities.

Bilateral cooperation

Today, the EUIPO enjoys technical bilateral cooperation with 48 IP offices and regional/international organisations from around the world. This cooperation involves extending tools, common practices and standards developed by the EUIPN beyond EU borders and further raising awareness of IP systems.

One such tool is the Harmonised Database, the world’s largest goods and services database. It is currently embedded in all EUIPO online filings and in classification tools, such as TMclass or Similarity, and contains terms that are agreed on by the EUIPO, all regional and national IP offices within the European Union and 19 international offices.

Multilateral cooperation

The EUIPO also participates in the TM5 and ID5 with the Chinese, Japanese, South Korean and US IP offices, which receive the highest volume of applications in the world. Together, they work on projects designed to make it easier for businesses to file trademarks and designs around the world. An example of this includes the TM5 ID list, a dedicated search tool that fosters greater convergence. It contains over 20,000 pre-approved identifications of goods and services that assist rights holders who wish to seek trademark protection in multiple jurisdictions.

Similarly, the EUIPO cooperates with other international organisations, like WIPO and the EPO, on projects of mutual interest, such as joint work on technical level cooperation and existing databases.

In order to ensure that we remain at the forefront of excellence for our users, it is crucial that we pool expertise from both the leading IP offices and international organisations. We strive to move forward together in identifying and developing IT solutions, common practices and covering as many jurisdictions as possible.

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