Forum on the World Economic Order Program: “Trademarking Innovation: Intellectual Property in the Digital Age”

July 20-27, 2019 | Washington, DC and Louisville, KY The Forum on the World Economic Order welcomed its ninth delegation of experts in July for a seven day study tour focusing on intellectual property rights around the world. During the program, which took place in Washington, DC and in Louisville, KY, the delegation met with over 25 intellectual property practitioners in the U.S. from the private sector, NGOs and non-profits, think tanks, academia, and federal government. The discussion in Washington, DC was largely focused on the development of the current U.S. system as well as U.S. efforts on intellectual property enforcement around the world. The rise of notorious markets and improved counterfeiting techniques have made it more difficult to identity counterfeit goods, as well as determine consumer intent when buying counterfeit products online. To combat this, the U.S. Government releases the annual Special 301 Report in a joint effort from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Department of State, and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, among others, to indicate countries that have violated intellectual property rights (IPR) globally. Because strong intellectual property rights is an attractive component for foreign investors, the objective is to put both political and market-based pressure on countries to comply with IPR as a means of garnering greater foreign direct investment. However, since the focus is less on external capacity building and more on encouraging countries themselves to take responsibility and reform their systems internally, this can be challenging if there is a lack of structural capability or political will. A continued theme in the conversations in Washington, DC was that revenue derived from intellectual property enforcement through patents and trademarks is money that can be put back into research and development and thereby foster further innovation. However, many of the discussion partners in Washington, DC were less focused on future developments to intellectual property and more on preserving the current system. Given the developments in artificial intelligence and the increasingly murky question of who owns information, this could prove difficult for government response to intellectual property rights in the future. The discussion in Louisville differed from that in Washington, DC, with the starkest contrast being the amount of innovation pursued at the state level. Many of the discussion partners closely connected the future of intellectual property with the rise of big data and new technologies, particularly predictive analytics and artificial intelligence. In light of this, many were already thinking about alternative models to the current patent process, such as cloud-based information protection. On the academic level, intellectual proprty law students are encouraged to engage directly in IP proceedings by working at university-led clinics where they can provide free legal counsel to student inventors or members of the community. This more dynamic approach allows the next generation of intellectual property lawyers to take note of current trends and better prepare for the practical application of their degree. All meeting partners agreed that while intellectual property rights are valuable, the system is not as agile and accessible as it needs to be, particularly given the rapid development of new technology that in the future could be obsolete by the time a patent is granted.