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The Future of Patenting - The Rise of the Conceptual Age

http://www.flickr.com/photos/migrainechick/3185150010/by Charl Goussard, NAIP Legal Research
with Jeffrey Chang, NAIP Editorial

"The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind – computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers."

    – (Pink, A Whole New Mind, 2005: 1)


The world of patenting is changing. But into what? From the beginnings of the renaissance into the information-driven era of today, the development of patents and the patent industry has taken a long and sinuous path: from humble, quiet beginnings to today's highly-prized and strategically-brandished asset. Tomorrow, undoubtedly it will evolve yet again. And while no one can know exactly what the future holds in store for patents, we can see from history a direction for the future.

The patents and patent industry of tomorrow will be born in the same spirit of creativity and individuality found in inventors like DaVinci, yet nurtured and propagated in the advanced business systems of the world economy. Thus, though inventors and corporations may be swamped with the business of today, they must always be wary that the nature of their work is of tomorrow. They must prepare their people, strategies and operations so that their patents remain, as innovation should always be, on the cusp of the future.

The Story of Patenting

World societies, economies, cultures and so on, have changed significantly in the past hundreds of years, and these changes have influenced patents and the patent industry as well. The purpose of innovation and patents, their function, use, understanding and even definition are shifting even today. What has been their path? We'll look at it briefly below:

    1) The Origin of Innovation: The Agricultural Age
During the renaissance and up to the beginning of the 20th century, the field of patenting was inventor driven; people like Da Vinci and peasant farmers created their own "tools" based on their specific individual needs and creative interests. This more personal and perhaps more humanistic approach to innovation and patents characterized the patent industry in this age.

    2) Standardization of Innovation: The Industrial Age
The increasing number of mechanical and electrical inventions supported the move to industrialization, which led to more standardized, mass produced products. Innovation was now being driven by the needs of the masses – standardization enabled mass production, which in turn resulted in huge cost savings. As a result this sudden ability for an invention to reach the masses started to shift the meaning and purpose of innovation and patenting toward commercialization.

    3) The Business of Patents - The Information Age
Inventors were now increasingly driven by the needs of businesses and in the process of cost saving, individualism had to give way to structure and even more standards. Logical thinking and analytical cause-and-effect models became the new drivers of innovation and patenting soon became the business of MBA’s, Lawyers and Computer programmers. Leading inventions were now directed by industry standards and patent pooling – long lost the days of the individual inventor. The value of patents was determined by their "essentiality" to industry standards. Patenting now became a strategic business tool, used to threaten and persuade competitors.

    4) The Future of Patenting - The Conceptual Age
During the Information Age, patenting was driven by the linear/ logical needs of businesses. However, this process of analytical, logical thinking is being substituted by the very computers we created (and patented) and we now find ourselves at the beginning of a new innovation era.

Some of the characteristics that we can expect to emerge from this new "Conceptual Age" include people-focused service, products that fit individual lifestyles, and an emphasis on human and emotional bonding. The Conceptual Age is grounded on the strengths of human imagination, emotion, a deeper understanding and appreciation for meaning – fundamental human qualities that address the needs of the individual.

Therefore in this future age, we can expect that the new drivers of patenting will combine the creative brilliance of a Da Vinci with the business expertise of a Gates and in addition incorporate a more compassionate approach to problem solving, creating not only practical solutions, but meaningful and customized inventions that will once again address the specific needs of the individual.

Why the Shift to the Conceptual Age?

During the information age, inventors and businesses found many opportunities to capitalize, commercialize and even mass produce innovation in the form of patents. Over time, however, much of the uniqueness commonly attributed to patents and patented products began to disappear.

A prospective buyer in most markets today is met by an overabundance of similar products, at affordable prices. In addition, automation has taken over the place of the traditional craftsmen or inventor; computer software is fast becoming "leading inventors".

Furthermore, the work of knowledgeable employees, such as computer programmers and machine operators, are being outsourced to the cheaper labor markets of Asia's developing countries.

To make thing worse for the manufacturer, educated masses are now demanding even more from the products they buy. Product functionality has now been coupled with a need for meaning and lifestyle enriching experiences.

The main reasons for the shift to the Conceptual Age can thus be summarized in three words: Abundance, Outsourcing and Meaning.

What next?

In the Conceptual Age, industries (who wish to flourish) will have to strategize around the following 3 questions:
  1. Can my service/product be outsourced?
  2. Can my service/product be automated?
  3. Does my service/product serve a need that goes beyond functionality?
If you can answer NO to all of the above questions, then you are most likely in the position to offer a meaningful service/product that will be valued in the new age.

In addition, businesses with active research and development (R&D) should focus on: How to create an environment that will foster the leading patents of the Conceptual Age and patents for technology that can NOT be easily outsourced, automated or that merely meet the requirements of functionality.

In our follow-up article, we will have a closer look at: "What constitutes creativity in a business environment?" and "a discussion (with examples) of the six essential Right Brain Directed abilities according to Pink, namely: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning."

Pink, D.H. (2005), A whole new mind, New York: Penguin.
Did You Know? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mmz5qYbKsvM&feature=fvst


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