WHY THE WORLD’S VERY SURVIVAL COULD DEPEND ON
Published in The Guardian (26.04.13)
Friday 26th April is World Intellectual Property Day – one, which like many themed days, will probably pass most people by. A day that few will consider has any relevance to them.
But IP is one of the most profoundly important aspects, not only of our history but the very future of our economy; some may now say, our very survival. The UK design industry is ranked fourth in the world and our army of 350,000 designers needs to be recognised, not only in the traditional areas of design, but as leaders in the socially-responsible and environmentally-sustainable innovation that will become the cornerstone of the emerging e-conomy.
Like the industrial revolution, post-war consumerism and the IT revolution, we are in a state of massive change. Yet unlike those periods, the convergence of economic, social and environmental pressures has created an even more perfect storm for innovation. There are seven billion people on our resource-constrained planet and at the current rates of development that will be nine billion consumers by 2040 and by some estimates, 11 billion by 2050.
In order to survive as a race, our very existence will depend on the most incredible surge of creativity and invention known to mankind. The next thirty years will be defined, not so much by the gadgets and frivolous inventions of the past thirty years; but necessity will once more be the mother of invention.
Currently we know that much British IP is being acquired by organisations in China and the Middle East. Ironically whilst we have the opportunity to develop oil and gas independence with renewables, we are losing our rights to those inventions because we do not sufficiently value uncommercialised design assets until it is too late.
So why doesn’t the UK Government prioritise and support intellectual property development as the lifeblood of our economic recovery? A recent All-Party IP Group undertook an enquiry into the “Role of Government in Protecting and Promoting IP” and agreed that IP is vital to economic growth, though worryingly, it is overlooked by many Government departments who do not grasp its importance.
IP education plays a key role in the UK’s economic development plans. Intellectual Property Awareness Network (IPAN) has an education group which is working hard to ensure the next generation of students is introduced to IP rights at university. Indeed research partnerships between the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), IPAN and the National Union of Students (NUS) are ensuring more graduates recognise the value of their own intellectual property and those of the businesses they enter. At secondary school level excellent work is done by the Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics network (STEM) which is promoting careers in science and design; and the BBC’s Newsround Inventions Competition is aimed at children as young as eight years old, to stimulate and promote invention.
Research for the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) by IP expert Dr Robert Pitkethly of Oxford University revealed that 97% of small companies do not have an IP strategy. Critical work in this area is done by Anti Copying in Design (ACID), a leading IP membership organisation which has an “Educate to Protect” programme which is specially-designed to support micro and SME’s with simple and practical self-help tools for protecting rights.
Recognising the solutions for tomorrow’s world is perhaps the most pressing motivation to encourage creativity and invention; but pure creativity also contributes to our rich and diverse cultural identity and is another highly-prized, yet domestically undervalued, facet of British design. From clothing, jewellery and graphics to furniture, lighting and giftware; the confidence, quirkiness and sheer economic pulling power of British design is vastly disproportionate to our size on the world stage. Indeed, it is estimated around £35bn per annum is contributed to the UK economy by the design fraternity. Far from being whimsical and fringe, design is actually the beating heart in virtually every commercial sector.
Yet we still have situations where our designers, especially the young and micro-businesses which dominate the scene, are systematically ripped off by our own corporations – major brands who should be acting ethically and championing and supporting ‘Great British Design’ by paying a licence fee to the originator; a situation which ‘World Intellectual Property Day’ can also help to highlight.
Sustainable design doesn’t just mean ‘green’ or ‘environmental’ technologies, but in terms of viability we need to encourage our designers to come up with alternative materials and manufacturing processes for our resource-constrained future. That will not mean the equivalent of hair shirts and brown sandals – indeed we already know that design ingenuity has come up with a host of exciting apparel solutions from recycled plastics into jeans and hoodies, to old car tyres fashioned into uber-trendy footwear. We are only limited by our imagination and the desire to gain global competitive advantage by playing to our strengths; but with parity and fairness.