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IP or no IP, that's the question

Earlier this month the European Patent Office (EPO) reported that UK companies filed over 5,700 patent applications in 2018, a rise of almost 8 per cent, while the number of European patents granted to British companies jumped 22 per cent reaching 3,800.

Companies like Imagination, Dyson and Arm all argue that it’s in their interest to have strong patent protection and are determined to strengthen their patent portfolios, not only in established markets but in markets like China where there is a growing focus on patent protection.

With this focus on Intellectual Property, however, there is an increase in litigation: Qualcomm v Apple, Daimler v Nokia are high-profile cases that reveal a growing scramble to protect rights in the fast-developing world of the Internet of Things and the roll-out of 5G.

It raises the question as to where IP rights reside and where the value of the connected world can be found – with large, established companies or the myriad of small businesses and owners of digital technology?

The IoT is a space where small companies, universities and spin-outs are developing an innovation ecosystem. As Martin Cotter of ADI explains to New Electronics on page 10, "Innovation is coming from everywhere."

So, is IP and its protection helping or hindering in the promotion of technology? Do we need to amend IP laws and regulation and look to encourage more open innovation? Have patents, in fact, become the greatest inhibitor to innovation?

Many small businesses own patents themselves but research, conducted in the US, suggests that most senior management had hardly any knowledge on how to leverage that IP for growth. Many see IP as an expensive instrument that can, on occasion, help to attract investors.

For many the IP system is seen as confusing and inaccessible, being too complicated and too high in cost, and is seen solely as a legal tool promoting the interests of large technology companies.

Does the future of the IoT even lie in patents, or should we be focusing on the development of more open environments, taking a radically different approach to IP and in new business models?

Innovation and IP represent incredible investments of time and resources and the promise of strong IP protection, it is argued, makes these investments worth carrying out.

But does IP protection incentivise innovative activity or hold it back? In an era of exponential technologies, isn’t the only way of staying ahead of the competition to innovate more, be quicker to market and to be constantly reinventing?

I don’t claim to have an answer, but it’s certainly an interesting debate, and one that needs to be had as technology invades ever more aspects of our lives.

Neil Tyler

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