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Hey world leader! Call me before you pass that new internet law...

Editor's note

Navigating the world of IP is harder than it looks

By Gavin Allen, Editor-in-Chief Huawei Technologies

So here’s a challenge: how to start an article on Intellectual Property Rights, that doesn’t prompt everyone to click away within a split second? It’s an important, but seemingly remote-for-many and technical subject.

But everyone loves a punchy quotation, right?

“Necessity is the mother of all invention”? (Plato, since you’re wondering - thank you Google). But that doesn’t quite cut it.

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”? Better – and Thomas Edison was certainly well placed to know, his genius having churned out countless inventions. But all a bit familiar. And, well, dated.

So I’ve plumped instead for the founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales – and a more modern-day warning about how intellectual property rights (IPR) are being skewed.

“Politicians are hoping to rein in the power of the internet giants but they do things that end up entrenching their power... We as a global society aren’t really stepping back and thinking through this in a balanced way.”

Who’s cop, who’s robber?
Jimmy, who denies being an “IP anarchist, against all the rules” is the main interviewee in this month’s edition of Transform, Huawei’s global thought leadership magazine. And he’s worried. Worried that the IP laws aren’t entirely fit for modern times, that “grandstanding against foreigners” is fracturing access to global knowledge and that the best interests of the people are being ignored.

And he tells me we don’t even always know who the good guys are any more.

“I like the analogy of cops and robbers – legitimate copyright enforcers against piracy. But we can also flip that on its head. Maybe the cops are the robbers if it’s the music industry trying to control everything out of an interest that’s not really about protecting artists.”

Multiple questions, no easy solutions
The pandemic highlighted the public’s sometimes contrary view towards IP - a universal demand for accelerated pharmaceutical innovation and never mind the cost but cheaper more accessible vaccines as a result. Rewarding both ideas and the blood, sweat and tears is a complex challenge: Jimmy recognises there’s no easy one-size-fits-all solution.

“Protecting the rights of creators is incredibly important. But, that’s only a start,” he says. “What of the extent of property rights and intellectual property? How long should they go for? When should they be limited? What about fair use? All these kinds of issues are also very very important.”

An array of challenges I put to another guest for this month’s Transform, the former Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization Francis Gurry.

Beware of balkanization
Mr. Gurry echoed Jimmy Wales’ concerns about the “difficult and dangerous” breakdown of cross-border collaboration, warning that it puts at risk the social benefits that innovation brings to so many.

“I think we need to really be careful that we don’t destroy the basis of what should be the next stage of evolution of the world in terms of cooperation,” he said. ”If we’re going to deglobalize, have splinternets and see a balkanization of the world, then that’s a complete failure”.

Mr. Gurry ran WIPO for 12 years and said a “new layer” was now required to ensure the IP system kept pace with technological change, pointing to questions around data as the thorniest challenge. 

“Data was once a human right, an absolute right and now it’s becoming a competitive issue. For me, data is the one issue that is going to require a lot of sorting.”

Harry Potter Meets Mission Impossible
Also in this edition:

  • The author and academic Prof Christian Stadler explains where cool new ideas come from and how you turn them into a business
  • We explore why companies waste trillions of dollars every year leaving patented ideas gathering dust on corporate shelves
  • A former senior diplomat calls for an IPR move away from prioritising protection towards encouraging sharing for universal benefit.
  • A serial American entrepreneur turns poet to reveal why Hermione Granger is the true archetype of the creator, innovator, and inventor
  • And a research engineer and innovation award-winner tells us how she may have cracked the 5G network's equivalent of Mission Impossible

So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to read on and find out more. Don't worry: nothing's going to self-destruct...

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