Last week, the 5th Francis Gurry Lecture at the University of Melbourne was given by Dr Francis Gurry, the Director-General of WIPO (and so the highest ranking Australian official in UN organisations), himself. The topic “Re-thinking the Role of IP’.

Dr Gurry’s central theme was that the context in which intellectual property operates has changed so much that the way in which we think about IP and its role in society needs to be reconsidered.

One of the key changes Dr Gurry identified was the economic shift from wealth derived from tangibles to wealth generation deriving from intangibles. As one indicator of this, Dr Gurry pointed out that US industries in the IP field accounted for some 35% of its GDP. Another indicator showed that in 1978 95% of the value of the Standard & Poors 500 came from tangible assets, down to 20% in 2010.

The second key change Dr Gurry identified was the economic shift from the West to the East. China is now the second largest investor in R & D in absolute terms in the world. Japan the third.

The third key change identified was the empowerment of non-state actors. One illustration of this was the Day the Internet went Dark. More than 115,000 websites closed or limited access. More than 2.4 million anti-SOPA tweets were generated. One of my favourite images (lid dip Marty Schwimmer was the impact on the US Congress:

sopa-pipa-one-day

We are seeing a little bit of that here.

Of course, the Department of Homeland Security, or the FBI, also flexed its muscles.

Among the many consequences arising from these changes:

  • much greater focus on IP and much greater intensity – Smartphone wars anyone, industrial espionage
  • much greater attention to what IP rights are granted for and focus mediating what is acceptable to the general public

Although not an example used by Dr Gurry, we have seen that here too. Dr Gurry did point out, however, an apparent paradox:

No one minds, it seems, someone making billions out of new social networking or media technology, but there is widespread social unease at someone making billions out of a new life-saving drug. Which outcome do we want to achieve in the innovation system?

Dr Gurry went on to explain that this changes in turn raised many questions for entitlement, appropriability and policy-making. Dr Gurry’s presentation in written form can be found here (pdf). Definitely repays reading. Lid dip @MsSamMcHugh

 

Update: A video of the lecture and the paper itself can now be found here.