Reports offer insight into the future of IP
01 December 2020
What does the future of intellectual property look like? The International Trademark Association (INTA) answers this question in three new reports based on input from think tanks composed of current and former heads of IP offices, in-house IP practitioners, and law firms from around the world.
While each think tank reflected on current and future issues from its specific perspective, they converge in their take on the future: the IP landscape is evolving quickly, and stakeholders of all types must adapt in order to keep pace, and manage and enable change. Change includes engaging in new roles.
“The IP field, like every industry, needs to step back and survey the current landscape in order to move forward,” said Etienne Sanz de Acedo, INTA’s CEO. “When we began this initiative in early 2019, little did we know that the Covid-19 pandemic would come about and accelerate us into the future, causing IPOs, in-house practitioners, and law firms to pivot perhaps more quickly than anticipated. It has highlighted the vital importance of preparing for the future.”
For IPOs, the Report: The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) of the Future concludes: “With so much change occurring simultaneously, we must ensure that IPOs of the future are nimble and robust enough to absorb, manage, facilitate, and enable change.”
Facilitated by INTA, the IPO of the Future Think Tank is an independent group of 14 current and former heads of IPOs from Australia, Canada, Chile, Europe, France, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda and the United States.
The experts explore three key themes: the evolution of the IP system, future challenges and opportunities, and the key features that an IPO of the future should have.
Among the changes impacting IPOs and IP stakeholders, the report cites, among other developments, the “soaring value” of intangible assets; the rising importance, volume, and complexity of IP rights; the emergence of new countries as IP powerhouses; further harmonization of IP rights; the strengthening of global trade; the changing nature of work with disruptive technologies; and the more centralized role of IP “in fueling the innovation required to address the world’s most daunting challenges.”
In addition, many IPOs are moving beyond traditional tasks – resulting in a diversity of roles among IPOs across the globe. The functions include promoting innovation, supporting the development of broader public policies, providing education on IP, and understanding the IP marketplace, such as how stakeholders discern IP valuation and make licensing decisions.
Among other operational aspects to consider, the think tank arrives at these points: “transparency in IP policy and systems will need to be strengthened while bad faith filings kept at bay with appropriate legislation and practices”; IPOs must rely on new technologies to increase speed and efficiency, and recruit employees with a diverse skillset; and IPOs must work together to develop solutions and tools that can be shared.
The report states that over the next 10 to 20 years, IPOs will be required “to change their practices and procedures to become more agile and effective as well as more diverse and inclusive.”
In addition to publishing the complete report of the IPO of the Future Think Tank, INTA also released executive summaries of the reports of its other two think tanks.
INTA’s In-House Practice of the Future Think Tank Report examines the roles and responsibilities of in-house IP attorneys, the impact of technology on the practice, and core competencies for, and obstacles to, creating the brand legal team 10 years into the future. The think tank was comprised of a small group of in-house practitioners.
“In the future state, trademarks will continue to be the key area of responsibility; however, the roles will evolve, as the nature of the work continues to change, and in-house teams take on additional responsibilities,” the summary said. “Because of this we will refer to in-house practitioners of the future as brand counsel or brand legal teams.”
Noting that in-house teams “are being asked to do more with less,” the think tank said it expects this trend to continue. “The members of the brand legal team will continue to morph into true business advisors who are tasked with managing risk on an agile basis,” they wrote.
The third task force, composed of leading INTA members and experts, found that IP law firms are increasingly involved in matters beyond traditional trademark protection and enforcement issues.
“Consequently, law firms must be prepared with the knowledge and flexibility to counsel and support business clients across wide-ranging industries and issues,” according to theIP Law Firms of the Future Think Tank Report executive summary.
Trends affecting the future of law firms include the move toward a business partner relationship, new technologies, and operational changes, such as the blurring of separation between IP professionals and service providers. The report also examines, in contrast to the traditional law firm model, the extent to which clients are now in control of the key decisions influencing legal hiring, project management, and pricing structures, among other operations.
Law firms, including IP firms, “should remain flexible and ready to diversify their services, exploring specific client business needs,” the summary said. “Successful law firms of the future will have to distinguish themselves in new ways, such as on price, service models, and speed; the use of technology and communications; innovation; and add-on services.”
Each report also includes reflections on the Covid-19 pandemic, which emerged while the think tanks were at work. The IPO of the Future Think Tank, for one, included an extensive case study illustrating how some IPOs were effective along many fronts, while others experienced significant setbacks – providing more clarity about how the IPO of the future must equip itself to withstand future crises, its role and resilience in such crises, and potential opportunities in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“Necessity has become a driver of innovation within IPOs,” the report said. “From the case study and the report, it appears that the IPO of the future will need to be built for purpose (focusing on its core mandate); robust enough to withstand disruptions (based on sound stewardship); and sufficiently nimble, connected, and innovative so as to step up and serve rapidly evolving situations.”