Intellectual Property and the Industry Commons
Industry Commons Foundation
Intellectual Property and the Industry Commons: Unlocking the Renaissance
Recognised as a major influence on economists, Leonard Reed’s 1958 essay ‚I, Pencil’ demonstrated that the invention of even the simplest of objects is the result of mass collaboration. A pencil is made by loggers, graphite miners and factory workers. Its form is predicated on the invention and widespread adoption of writing and drawing, and it requires an ecosystem of other technologies from pads of paper to marketing and distribution networks. The workers involved need to eat food and travel to work, and this all takes place within an elaborate economic and social web.
As interwoven, interdependent, cross-disciplinary and intricate as those systems were, Reed could not have foreseen the world to come. The extent to which the processes, raw materials and interconnected networks would become exponentially and globally more complex sixty or so years later would have been absolutely unthinkable. What had been the paradigm-shifting impact of Reed’s observation now needs to happen again at the next order of magnitude. We live in a context where the affordances of digital technologies, the entirely inescapable global supply chain networks and the ecosystemic challenges of the 21st century implicate and involve every single individual. We can no longer extricate ourselves from those global systems. Collaboration and the intersection of diverse ideas and specialisms are not merely beneficial for innovation in this context but fundamental for survival.
These intertwined framework conditions and cross-domain technological affordances lend themselves to the design of new supporting frameworks that are more inclusive and equitable. For the first time ever, the acceleration of industrial digitalisation provides an opportunity to build radical or disruptive innovation on top of existing intellectual property (IP), in a system that is fully trackable and accountable for all involved. Our tests conducted in the past five years2 demonstrate that ensuring traceability and attribution creates a powerful incentive to share data and other assets across fields, sectors and industries, helping humanity embrace innovation with greater motivation and efficacy than ever before.
Intellectual Property is a broad, complex and discursive area of study, subject to critique as a preventer of innovation and as a barrier to the creation of new ideas. Its fundamental condition as a category of property law has led to its status as a domain of guarded ownership, complicated routes to permission and a punitive legal minefield with steep costs for infringement – intentional or otherwise. The default position for access to industry IP has long been a blanket ‘no’ except under exceptional, usually expensive circumstances.
IP regulation has not followed the evolution of IP value creation.
In his ongoing quest to find out more about how people create and innovate, Professor Brian Uzzi, a professor of leadership at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, and his team, measured the citations of every paper available in the Web Of Science, a repository of some 30 million scientific papers dating from the early 1900s to the present day.3 The articles with the most significant impact, he discovered, were collaborative. “Since 1950, teams have become more prevalent as a production mechanism,” he said in an interview for the BBC podcast Sideways.4 “Teams are getting bigger over time, [and] they are three to four times more likely to write a hit paper or produce a hit patent than individuals.”
He also noted that these teams were primarily composed of specialists from different disciplines: “Biologists working with economists and anthropologists, or historians working with big data experts and ethnographers.” This meeting of minds across boundaries is known as recombinant innovation, and it has an impressive track record of helping humanity make significant strides forward.
Fear of sharing IP, however, is deeply embedded. Sandra Vengadasalam of the Max Planck Digital Library describes how researchers feel about the issue: “If you ask them ‘What are you afraid of?’ – and it doesn’t matter which discipline – it’s ‘Oh, I’m super afraid to get scooped’.” In other words, there is strong concern that colleagues or competitors will steal a march on you and publish first. “It starts when you want to share your PowerPoint presentation, some pictures of your last microscopic data, whatever,” she continues. “There’s always the fear of ‘Okay, what can I give out? And what about my intellectual property?’”5
In the corporate world, the issue of IP is broad, complex, and carries significant responsibility for erecting barriers to ideas and holding back innovation. Indeed, amongst the closely guarded IP locked away by industry lies a substantial proportion of the estimated $100bn value of data sharing. But this isn’t simply an issue of trust. There can be problems relating to interoperability and conflicting standards, which make sharing difficult, despite the obvious benefits of overcoming them.
Take the example of driverless vehicle data. In 2017, Chris Ballinger, Toyota Research Institute’s CFO and Director of Mobility Services, estimated that it would take ten years for any single company working in the field to collate all the information they need about roads and infrastructure.6 That information is almost instinctively placed under lock and key as it is collected. But if the data is shared between, say, nine other competitors, it could be gathered in a single year, allowing much more rapid progress to market. By pooling information and standardising interoperability, everyone would, metaphorically speaking, be using the same railway tracks.
To increase the value of IP, we need to operate on common railway tracks.
In his book How Innovation Works,7 Matt Ridley lists endeavours for which the free sharing of ideas was pivotal: “…the Dutch East India company’s cargo ship, the Fluyt; Holland’s windmills; Lyons’ silk industry; crop rotation in England; Lancashire’s cotton spinning; America’s engines for steamboats; Viennese furniture; Massachusetts paper makers…” He also notes: “It was the flowering of societies, clubs and mechanics’ institutes that gave Britain its lead in the Industrial Revolution.”
Just as societies and clubs provided meeting grounds and shared points of cultural connection, it is necessary to now share spaces of common understanding with culture as a pivotal element, and creativity as both facilitator and the reason for coming together. For the past decade, MTF Labs has demonstrated that music provides that shared cultural touchpoint, common ground, creative spark and “social glue” that connects otherwise divergent minds.
Music thrives on the melding of diverse perspectives. For instance, the ongoing global success of the Swedish songwriter Max Martin has relied on an extraordinary list of collaborators: death metal artists, classically trained pianists, musicians from Barbados, India and beyond. This has contributed to Sweden being the number one country in the World for music exports per capita.8 Writer and thought-leader Matthew Syed argues that pop music has become the “recombinatorial art form par excellence,” a product of “the constant search for the sweet spot of musical collaboration.”
Crucially, those collaborations are supported by an advanced IP framework, thanks to more than a decade of work by the music industry to develop platform alignment for metadata. That industry is also starting to adopt systems for rights registration at the point of creation, such as Sweden’s Session, now used by Spotify and YouTube,9 which can unlock hundreds more millions of euros in untapped value. The Industry Commons IP Framework Study (2021)10 identified several cross-domain use cases where this kind of approach to IP management is already speeding up time to market. Equally, expanding one’s sphere of influence may uncover unexpected markets. A study of the expansion of the European Open Science Cloud revealed that its FAIR system of data sharing (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) turns into a system of data valorisation when deployed by commercial organisations.11
The unlocking of an interoperable Industry Commons of data-driven assets also provides creative innovators with the opportunity to generate new ideas that include intellectual property owned by others. Placing a wealth of existing research, R&D, products, designs and creative works into the hands of creators radically accelerates the innovation process, provides rapid knowledge transfer across domains and carries the potential for cross-sectoral and hybrid projects that could not have taken place within an individual industry vertical or organisation.
Pablo Garcia Tello, Section Head of New Projects and Initiatives at CERN, calls this “The New Alexandria”, inspired by the colossal library of the ancient world, which contained more than 400,000 scrolls and was available to anyone and everyone. Whatever you may take from The New Alexandria, he says, the rule is that you give something back. This would, in his words, “democratise knowledge and innovation while giving credit and recognition to the creators.” Such an innovation ecosystem could, he believes, help to integrate cross-disciplinary innovation and entrepreneurship.
Christer Gustafsson, Professor of Sustainable Management of Cultural Heritage at Uppsala University, believes the innovation that such systems could unlock goes beyond mere economic value: “My focus today is to more-or-less completely change the mindset from starting with this ‘protection oriented’ idea… It could be the change from an industrial society to a post-industrial society.”
IP valorisation is dominated by systemic inequality.
Patenting is still by far the most commonly used system of IP valorisation, even though it still carries the signs of the era that launched it, when married women were not allowed to own any kind of property:
Women do not get a fair share when it comes to patenting and are far less likely to own patents. This disparity is in part because of not only the inherent biases in science and technology and in the patent system itself, but also because of the high costs of even applying for patents. […] Patents are a glaring exception to the unregistered protections provided in other areas of intellectual property, which are more egalitarian in design.12
Currently, European patent granting procedures are expensive, slow (three to five years, on average), burdened with obscure legal terminology and fraught with problems relating to the definition of ideas and similarity to other patents. IP Screener13 makes a powerful case for making all patents findable with AI-assisted technologies, so independent inventors can affordably source and track existing inventions using plain language, build their knowledge from existing inventions and avoid infringing on protected IP.
To the minefield of gender and economic inequality for independent inventors, data-driven systems introduce additional challenges for IP management. Bias inherent in data sets, problems with data provenance verification, and risks of negative impacts on social behaviours have prompted industries to increase the demand for testing of new data-driven industrial applications in low-risk “living labs” environments. This allows them to capture unexpected outcomes from novel applications of frontier technologies before deploying them at scale. The core assets of manufacturing and industrial production have all become digitised, and all industries are now data industries. As data becomes a critical raw material and crossing streams becomes much easier, the risks to widespread bias become all the greater.
Allowing data provenance to remain in the black box presents an enormous risk for society. While this points to a growing need for new regulation and standards for data markets, it also enables new economies and value systems, creating a major new economic paradigm for society. Solving how IP attribution and provenance work in data markets can result in an explosion of new types of innovation, and as data becomes central to every industry vertical, tracking innovation enables unprecedented exploitation of diverse global market segments.
To move the paradigmatic shift of Reed’s “I, Pencil” to the next order of magnitude, a shared commons of trackable, traceable and easily licensable assets must be provided as fuel for a creative and economic renaissance enabled by an explosion of human ingenuity and motivated by the 21st Century’s ecosystemic challenges. We cannot separate ourselves from those ecosystems – or from each other. Whether a pencil, an AI platform, a novel musical instrument or an RNA vaccine, innovation is a major enabler for people to benefit from each other’s contributions. This is what society is for – or should be. It is, therefore, necessary to embrace radical inclusion and stop thinking in terms of ourselves as separate entities with individual characteristics, capabilities and (self-)interests. Instead, let us start with the question: Where do we converge?
1 According to Harvard Business School Professor Gary Pisano, incremental innovation for existing competencies and business models is routine; radical innovation builds new competencies for an existing business model; disruptive innovation proposes a new business model for existing competencies; and architectural innovation introduces both new competencies and business models. (Pisano, G. 2019, Creative Construction: the DNA of Sustained Innovation, PublicAffairs).
2 Experiments with creative innovation communities in partnership with blockchain technology companies and other decentralised platforms at MTF Labs in Helsinki, have demonstrated that it’s possible to establish new ways of recording, tracking, and tracing intellectual property live, in real-time, at the point of creation, using distributed ledger technology. These ideas have been codified and scaled up in the Industry Commons IP Framework study (2021).
6 Fortune Magazine, 22 May 2017: http://fortune.com/2017/05/22/toyota-mit-blockchain-driverless-cars/
7 Ridley, M., 2020. How Innovation Works: and why it flourishes in freedom, Harper, NY
8 Export Music Sweden, 2020: https://report2020.exms.org/
12 Marcowitz-Bitton, Miriam; Kaplan, Yotam and Michiko Morris, Emily (2020). Unregistered Patents & Gender Equality. Harvard Journal of Law & Gender.
Michela Magas is a designer who bridges the worlds of science and art, design and technology, academic research and industry with a track record of over 25 years of innovation. She is innovation advisor to the European Commission and the G7 leaders, member of President von der Leyen’s High Level Round Table for the New European Bauhaus, and member of the Advisory Board of CERN IdeaSquare (ISAB-G). In 2017 she was the first woman from the creative industries to be awarded European Woman Innovator, and in 2016 she was presented with an Innovation Luminary Award for Creative Innovation by the European Commission and Intel Labs Europe. She created the concept of the Industry Commons which has galvanised European industry around cross-domain data interoperability. She is the Founder and CEO of Stockholm-based MTF Labs, a global community platform of around 8000 creative innovators and scientific researchers, which provides a test case for innovation in areas as diverse as neuroscience, forestry and microcomputing. For 20 years she ran Stromatolite Design Lab in London creating design futures with global clients such as Apple, Nike and Nokia.
Picture © Nebojsa Babic square
Andrew Dubber is is an author, academic, public speaker and broadcaster, Director of MTF Labs, and Steering Board Member of the Industry Commons Foundation. He has written extensively on the digital transition, cultural identity in popular music, and social innovation in the cultural sector, including Radio in the Digital Age (Polity, 2013) and Understanding the Music Industries (Sage, 2012). He is the manager of Erasmus+ projects about STEAM education and is an active participant in EU Horizon projects about innovation and the Creative Industries. Until 2015, Dubber was UK Arts and Humanities Research Council Knowledge Transfer Fellow and Professor of Music Industry Innovation at Birmingham City University’s Centre for Media and Cultural Research. As an academic he led and contributed to practice-based research and Knowledge Exchange projects focusing on digital mediation, intellectual property, the creation of meaning from media objects within social and cultural networks, and innovation for social change. As an early adopter of new media platforms, Dubber has been blogging since 2002 and podcasting since 2004.
Picture © Michela Magas
Rhodri Marsden is a writer and musician based in the UK. He was the technology columnist for The Independent newspaper from 2006 until 2016, and subsequently took on that role for The National, a leading English language paper based in the UAE. His other writing, on subjects ranging from male-pattern baldness to amateur perfume makers, have appeared in dozens of publications including The Guardian, i, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Times, Glamour and Cosmopolitan. His annual fundraising efforts for the homeless every Christmas Eve on Twitter provided the catalyst for his most recent book, A Very British Christmas. A sought-after producer and musical director, he had an unlikely top 20 iTunes hit in 2019 with a disco album on the subject of Brexit, and he continues to perform as part of the much-loved pop group Scritti Politti.
Picture © Laura Ward