I came across a blog post about electric automaker Tesla's recent move to open up its patents by making them free to use by anyone, including competitors. According to founder, Elon Musk, ‘Technology leadership is not defined by patents, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers.’
I believe that while this move may have multiple strategic intent, (i.e. Tesla could have other IP cards up their sleeve), it also highlights limitations in the current systems of intellectual property, and it’ll require a fundamental shift in philosophy to fully appreciate where such trends could take us.
Obviously, I admire Tesla’s creativity and innovation, not least because their eco-friendly cars do not remind me quite so much of badly constipated turtles, but because their sheer gutsiness and willingness to take risks (aka multiple leaps of faith) puts them ahead of the curve.
If technology leadership is no longer defined by a sizeable IP portfolio, then this presents some very real challenges to various foul strategies and current sharp practices for IP, such as: ‘weaponised IP’, patent trolls, industrial espionage, and so forth. According to author Don Peppers' blog post on the topic, such ‘open source’ and ‘free revealing’ (aka free sharing) of otherwise competitive IP assets actually drive innovation ‘while patents, copyrights and other legal mechanisms seem to be holding us back.’ He goes on to say: ‘This is big, everyone. If you don’t know how big this is, you haven’t been paying attention.’
In my opinion, a mindset of ‘share first then ask questions after’ is vastly superior to the usual scarcity based approach to wealth creation, (i.e. ‘mine, mine, all mine’ is not real wealth, just an illusion). True wealth, which is firmly based in abundance, actually favours the sharing mindset by motivating and empowering bright creative people to continue to do and share what they do best. Such a system fosters innovation, and is ultimately self replenishing, because it forces organisations to ensure they maintain the right ingredients to continue being innovative.
In such a world, an organisation may be deemed a failure when it no longer has the ability to innovate, regardless of the size of its bank balance, market capitalisation or IP portfolio. Instead, successful organisations will be ones which can establish and demonstrate a self-perpetuating culture for creativity and innovation. Such bold claims do, however, raise some serious questions over IP, e.g.:
- Should IP be granted with implicit right for others to use and reuse by default, (along with fair recompense or royalty to the owner)? And if this were feasible, would everyone play by the rules?
- Are we likely to see a situation whereby IP may be rescinded from organisations that do not actively use them to innovate? I can already imagine patent trolls, and their IP lawyers, screaming in anguish at the thought.
- If free sharing of IP became common practice, will it ultimately diminish the value of IP, and its raison d'être, (i.e. a means to provide direct economic reward for creators and owners of IP)? Bear in mind that creators and owners of IP are not always one and the same.
These and other similar questions easily rise to the fore when you extrapolate the developing trend for free IP sharing and their implication for both individuals and organisations. Remember, IP sharing may be free, but its use and reuse should provide still some economic benefit to the owner.
The preceding points / questions are not solely relevant to organisations. Individuals, particularly those in the creative arts (e.g. authors, musicians and other artistes), are also affected especially as they increasingly chose to explore alternative funding models to finance their works.
TV presenter and author, Kate Russell (of BBC Click fame) takes it a step further by advocating the creation of new IP models based on crowd funding in her recent BCS blog post. Her exact words were: ‘With the online world still in freefall about how to solve digital rights protection and make sure artists get paid fairly for creative works, I genuinely believe that crowd funding could form the groundwork of a new intellectual property model’.
In my opinion, this is another example of the shifting mindset that will ultimately bring about the evolution of a more suitable IP system for the digital world of today and tomorrow.
About the author
Jude Umeh is a trusted advisor and digital innovator with track record of helping clients identify and define forward-looking business / technology strategies to capitalise opportunities and adapt to the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution. A published author and Thought Leader in Digital Content and Rights Management, Jude is a Fellow of BCS, Chartered Institute for IT (FBCS), and Liveryman at the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, All opinions are his own.