Canada recently made headlines in the IP world by announcing it would spend CA$85.3m (€56m), over five years to develop and implement a national IP strategy as part of its Innovation and Skills Plan. Its example is the latest in a string of countries to develop national IP strategies, often for the first time. These aim to get a grip on an increasingly complex area that spans many different parts of government and society and align it with other policies. What are the challenges and the benefits of investing time and resources in devising such a strategy?

Reasons to be strategic

National IP strategies address the growing importance of IP for successful innovation or implement changes required by trade agreements. Once a decision is taken to develop a strategy, the opportunity is usually taken also to look at the bigger IP picture. In some cases, there is a “me, too” element – strategies are launched because others are doing so and in order to maintain an attractive position in international rankings. In many countries, the patent office is the driving force, with the strategy enabling it to make the transition from a filing authority to a service/support provider in the RTDI sector and to be recognised in this new role in the innovation system.

Recent examples

Austria and Ireland are examples of countries recently developing IP strategies driven from the policy level, rather than by the patent office. The Irish example is particularly noteworthy as it did not lead to a stand-alone strategy document. Rather, an IP statement was included in the national innovation strategy. Denmark has introduced IP statements into sectoral strategies, making IP issues more tangible and tailoring policy goals to specific needs in particular industries technologies. But IP strategies can come in different forms. Some countries do not have a dedicated strategy document at all but are nonetheless strategic in their approach to IP. A case in point is the UK, where reviews like the Gowers review1 of 2006 and the Hargreaves review2 of 2011 provided structured processes that led to wide discussions among stakeholders and then on to reforms.

Are all strategies the same?

The scope and contents of IP strategies are often superficially similar even if the more detailed measures they propose differ, for example, because of differences in levels of economic development. Typically, they include awareness-increasing measures for SMEs; (mandatory) IP teaching in engineering, natural sciences, business and arts schools; technology transfer support; specific changes in national legislation; and improved inter-agency coordination. They normally target organisations in the R&D and innovation system but also the creative industries via the copyright theme, such as collecting societies; eventually, also enforcement agencies (judges, customs, police).

Benefits of a national IP strategy

A national IP strategy can start the process of embedding IP considerations across the whole range of institutions and agencies concerned with innovation. This means widening the strategy-building process beyond the specialised institutions dealing with IP – otherwise, the result is a narrow patent-office strategy rather than a wider strategy that actually has the potential to change the way innovation is done across society. The process of developing the strategy may even be more important than the strategy document itself. It must ensure commitment and buy-in from different agencies as well as cooperation in devising the strategy. The development process itself will tend to increase IP awareness across agencies, clarifying what IP means for them as well as why a collaborative approach may be helpful. Once finalised, a national IP strategy justifies reforms, guides institutions’ own strategies and therefore increases the overall effectiveness of IP policy.

Effective strategies

Several factors can inhibit the success of a national IP strategy: lacklustre implementation, often because there is no clear ownership in the implementation phase; lack of a proper evaluation and indicator system to assess progress and impact; or setting unrealistic or insufficiently selective goals (so that everything, and therefore nothing, becomes a priority). The best strategy may not be the one that looks good on paper but that truly reflects national political, economic and institutional realities. Not least because IP strategies have ramifications across multiple organisations, it is advisable that a single person and organisation coordinates – and preferably leads – the implementation process.

1 – Andrew Gowers, The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, London: HMSO, 2006

2 – Ian Hargreaves, Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth, London: UK Intellectual Property Office, 2011

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