WIPO Report Highlights Changing Innovation and IP Landscape

16 November 2011

The face of innovation is changing, with knowledge markets becoming increasingly central to global economic growth, according to a new World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) report launched Monday 14 November in Geneva. The report - entitled "The Changing Face of Innovation" - also found that revenue from intellectual property rights reached US$180 billion annually in 2009, compared to just US$2.8 billion in 1970.

"Investment in intangible assets is growing more than it is in tangible assets," WIPO Chief Economist Carsten Fink noted during the launch. This is particularly true, he said, in high-income countries such as Germany, Japan, the UK, and the US.

The first World Intellectual Property Report addresses the changing nature of global innovation trends, placing a particular emphasis on the role that intellectual property (IP) has to play.

The report also examines the economics of IP, with authors comparing old insights with new evidence; collaboration schemes to generate new IP and the role of competition law; and new trends and polices related to the commercialisation of publicly funded research and development.

Recent years have seen innovation feature at the top of the global policy agenda - and at WIPO in particular - with several conferences and reports dedicated to the issue in the last year alone (see Bridges Weekly 6 July 2011, 13 July 2011, and 28 September 2011).

"We will need to use innovation to address some of the world's most pressing social challenges, such as climate change, access to food, and health," WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry said during the launch.

At the same time, the Director-General, in his foreword to the report, highlighted that "the role of IP has fundamentally changed" in light of this evolving innovation landscape.

"IP has moved from being a technical topic within small, specialised communities to playing a central role in firm strategies and innovation policies," he added.

The report also found that innovation has become increasingly more international and collaborative in nature. "Innovation is now multi-polar and is not only driven by high-income countries," Gurry noted.

China was one of the prime examples of this effect: the country was the second largest spender in research and development (R&D) in 2009.

Speaking at the launch, Pedro Roffe, ICTSD Senior Fellow, commended the report's high quality and its contribution to policy discussions.

However, he also cautioned that "too little is known about innovation in low-income countries... the evidence mostly relates to high-income countries... and to enter into collaboration you need to have parties that have intangible assets to exchange." ICTSD is the publisher of Bridges Weekly.

As a result, "these trends, as important as they are, may not be fully global," he explained.

Roffe suggested exploring whether these trends, particularly those related to the rise of patent applications, payments, and revenues, could be attributed to the establishment of the WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in 1994.

The TRIPS Agreement led to a major expansion of intellectual property protection and enforcement, he noted.

Fink stressed that the report identifies areas where existing evidence is insufficient for drawing credible conclusions and points to areas for future research. As mentioned in the report, this lack of evidence leaves many questions open.

According to WIPO, the new World Intellectual Property Report series intends "to explain, clarify and contribute to policy analysis relating to IP, with a view to facilitating evidence-based policymaking."

ICTSD reporting, "UN sees boom to $180 billion in fees paid on intellectual property," ASSOCIATED PRESS, 14 November 2011.

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