Trademarking Innovation: Intellectual Property in the Digital Age

Forum on the World Economic Order | July 20-27, 2019
Trademarking Innovation: Intellectual Property in the Digital Age Forum on the World Economic Order Ananth Padmanabhan CPR India

The Forum on the World Economic Order, based in Washington, D.C., is part of an initiative by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) to establish regional hubs of expertise on pressing international issues. The Forum fosters dialogue among political, business and scientific multipliers by encouraging increased mutual understanding within the global economic landscape.

The FNF’s Office in North America organized a week-long tour, titled Trademarking Innovation: Intellectual Property in the Digital Age. It was an opportunity to interact with relevant stakeholders in Washington, D.C. and Louisville in Kentucky.

The study tour was one of the most thought-out and well-organised knowledge exchange programs for a host of reasons. Right from the choice of cities–a policy-heavy environment like D.C. where critical decisions are taken as contrasted with a hub of small to medium-sized businesses, Louisville that continues to make the United States the land of unwavering enterprise. The experts included Federal Government officials, people with in-depth understanding of local politics, policy leaders of technology giants, and startup founders. Special shout out to Courtney Flynn and Claus Gramckow of FNF North America for their painstaking attention to detail, generous hospitality and unbounded warmth!

The tour commenced with the inaugural dinner where the members of the cohort from near (Pakistan) and far (Germany) met each other. The tour provided an opportunity to appreciate why the digital age poses complicated challenges for intellectual property law across the globe and not just in India. The next day saw us making short presentations on the Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) landscape in our countries and bonding over a post-lunch monument tour in D.C. The official meeting with the Intellectual Property Enforcement Division, U.S. State Department made clear the contentious subject matter that we dealt. The Special 301 Report, relied on by the U.S. to ‘name and shame’ egregious IPRs ‘violators’, was highlighted by the Division as a positive measure to harmonise IPRs. Many in the cohort, on the other hand, highlighted the plural values that have suffused IPRs debates globally, especially, in less developed countries, revealing the fissures between the developed and the developing world when it comes to this area of law and policy. The cohort found more acceptance of their views while interacting with officials from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, demonstrating how perspectives change within government depending on the roles they are tasked with.

Switching gears, the rest of the meetings for the day were with industry body representatives. Stephen Ezell of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation spoke about the new kinds of challenges that the digital age has posed for IPRs, including the patentability of computer software. This was a theme that came up again the next day while interacting with Susan Mann and Suhail Khan of the Microsoft Corp. Samantha Aguayo and Thomas Valente of the Intellectual Property Owners Association spoke of the challenges in policy positioning when member companies differed on the optimal level of IP protection.

The study tour offered an ample scope to interact with academics and researchers. Dr. Federico Diez of the International Monetary Fund presented his work on the impact of corporate market power on competition. Professors John Whealan and Dmitry Karshtedt of the George Washington University School of Law spoke about the changing nature of IPRs pedagogy over the years, the close connect between innovation and IPRs, and the need to listen to voices from across the globe for shaping policy in this area. Professor Lars Smith of the University of Louisville spoke about the new models of clinical legal education that leverage knowledge of IPRs to assist small businesses, a theme that came up again when interacting with Norman Hedges from the University of Indiana Bloomington.

The meetings in Louisville provided a good understanding of new kinds of business models that have emerged from IPRs and broadly, data. Bob Fletcher, a pioneer in IPRs insurance services, explained the risks involved in IPRs litigation and the different data points to be considered when insuring plaintiffs and defendants. Frank Frigo runs a sports analytics startup, EDJ Analytics, which services betting agencies and teams that play American football. It was fascinating to hear his views on the role and limitations of IPRs in securing some of the value propositions that his company offers to clients.

Besides thought-provoking conversations, FNF North America had taken special effort to ensure that the cohort has a wonderfully immersive experience. The Stammtisch (German for ‘post-working hours dinner and drinks’) in D.C. with the FNF Political Professionals Network was an amazing opportunity to interact with entrepreneurs and policy professionals from the city, and learn more about their previous visits to Germany and the challenges they face in their lines of work.

Study tours like this make us realise the significance of cross-country exchange of ideas and cultures. Through my interactions with the rest of the cohort, I learnt the value of peer learning and team activity. As researchers, we often dwell in silos, probing deeper the nuances of the research questions that keep us awake. This study tour provided an excellent opportunity to broaden our horizons and look at the very same questions from a different lens – one that acknowledges the commonality of several of these issues while being mindful of the contextual specificities that dictate responses to the same.

Trademarking Innovation: Intellectual Property in the Digital Age Forum on the World Economic Order Ananth Padmanabhan CPR India

Ananth Padmanabhan

Ananth Padmanabhan is a Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research based in New Delhi. In this report, he shares his personal views.