Francis Gurry on IP wealth creation

James Riley
Editorial Director

The ‘innovation literacy’ of Australia’s political and business leadership might have improved significantly in the past two years, it is still well short of the countries that lead the world in intellectual property creation.

The Australian director-general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Francis Gurry says leadership thinking in this country is still heavily influenced by our status as a “resources economy”.

Changing the mindset of the political elite will be fundamental to improving the national conversation about innovation and about the creation of intellectual property.

Francis Gurry: The most successful innovation countries have leaders with excellent IP literacy skills

Mr Gurry, who follows industry and political developments in Australia closely from his Geneva base, – was in Sydney recently for an IP Statistics conference held by the OECD and IP Australia.

The tech literacy and innovation literacy of the political and government leadership is a common feature of countries that most successfully create IP.

“There are certain countries that are very clear about the value of innovation and of intellectual property at the highest levels of government,” Mr Gurry said.

“I would include in that group the United States, China – where officially they are on a journey from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China’ – as a well as Japan and Korea,” he said.

“Those are the countries that in my experience have a very clear national strategy that is expressed at the very highest level of the national government. There is a literacy at the highest level of government about these questions.”

“We are edging toward that … the current Prime Minister is of course extremely literate in the innovation area and in the intellectual property area, but this that has not always been the case.

He said there was an absolute need to have that literacy exist on a strategic level at the highest level of government and corporations in Australia.

Without that deep understanding at a leadership level, the political muscle required to drive the national shift away from our resources economy to one that is more comfortable with investments in intellectual properties.

It is a conundrum, Mr Gurry says. Because all of the data related to IP provides a roadmap for where technology and innovation is heading, but it remains a sometimes difficult sell to move people away from the thinking of a resources economy.

“We need to say to people that they can move investment away from areas where there is a fairly well-known risk profile but with a great challenge in volatility in pricing – that’s commodities – toward areas where everything is telling us that this going to be where the future of wealth-generation is going to be based – that’s in market-creating innovation, and knowledge workers, and the knowledge economy,” Mr Gurry said.

“That is where [real wealth creation] will be. And the resources component of the economy will become the poorer element in the value chain,” he said.

Intellectual property statistics are fascinating for people who keep a close eye on technology developments (that’s often venture capitalists and corporate analysts and the like.) When looked at closely, IP filings provide a roadmap for which industries will get disrupted and what form that disruption takes.

“Intellectual property is a unique window into the forces of change in the economy,” Mr Gurry said, “because by definition, IP is concerned with change whether the criteria is novelty or originality or distinctiveness.”

“So we need this data to understand the dynamics of change in our economy,” he said.

And what the data is telling us that it is the scale of change that is different. The velocity of patent filings worldwide is climbing rapidly. The numbers grew by 17 per cent in 2015 in a global economy that was essentially rubbish.

“Just on those numbers that’s telling us something important about the scale of change that is occurring.”

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