The Big Short Part 2, IP Apocalypse

Big Short

by: Patrick Anderson | May 5, 2017

The Big Short might be my favorite movie of the past five years, but regardless of where it falls it’s definitely in the top five. Ryan Gosling’s narration gives us a line that echo’s a sentiment I have often repeated about the IP-world. Interrupting a discussion filled with technical-sounding terms like mortgage-backed securities, sub-prime loans, and tranches, Gosling breaks in and explains, “Wall Street loves to use confusing terms, to make you think only they can do what they do.”

IP is no different, and I’ve often said myself the greatest trick IP-lawyers ever pulled was convincing the world that only lawyers can understand IP. Unfortunately, Margot Robbie is apparently not in IPWire’s budget (thanks for nothing, Tom), so I guess that leaves the explanation to me (bubble bath notwithstanding).

So take patents, for example. Patent claims are just a collection of words. According to law and policy, each claim can consist of no more than a single sentence, which means that the single most important skill related to understanding any given patent is not the possession of a law degree but rather just reading comprehension.

In fact, in the early days of the US Patent system, inventors would frequently file their own patent applications, and lawyers were initially brought in only if an inventor needed to defend his application in an interference proceeding. However, somewhere along the line, patents became the lawyer’s domain. Sadly, not even I would recommend trying to navigate the byzantine, arcane bureaucracy that is the patent office without a lawyer these days. But, as the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

This brings us to the recent—and very poignant—comments of Daren Tang, the chief executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS). Mr. Tang, noting that IP is about value, not law, offers criticism that echoes Gosling:

IP offices, in particular, are often guilty of talking about IP in overly technical ways that stakeholders and the public do not understand, perpetuating the myth that IP is an arcane branch of knowledge best left to the IP technicians.  And this ultimately undermines the good work that many IP offices and experts do, because many people then do not see it as relevant to their lives. So, part of the change is in changing the way we talk about IP, so that people change the way they think about IP.

Equally, or more important is Mr. Tang’s patent office literally put its money where its mouth was with the announcement of a US$746M fund for direct investments into inventors and entrepreneurs. That is exactly where IP offices around the world should direct some real energy and remind us patent “technicians” why and for whom we are all in business:

“Innovators and enterprises in Singapore will soon benefit from a range of new initiatives that helps them translate their ideas into assets. This includes the launch of a one-billion dollar Makara Innovation Fund (MIF) by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) and home-grown private equity firm, Makara Capital. Commercially-driven, MIF will target high-growth companies with strong IP and proven business models, leveraging Singapore as a base for their growth and expansion into world markets.”

No obfuscation or legalese in the above. Just straight investment into the only ones that truly matter in the patent system – inventors.

The Big Short showed us, in excruciating and entertaining detail, how Wall Street was allowed to run a massive, fraudulent, and ultimately ruinous scam virtually unchecked, thanks in large part to the indifference of a public that was convinced that it couldn’t understand, or shouldn’t care, what the hell Wall Street was doing. In the same way, if people fail to see IP as relevant to their lives, then management of that property falls to insiders that will invariably seek to protect only their own interests. At least they’ll make an interesting movie about it, you might think to yourself.

But you’d be wrong. The housing market collapse led to the largest economic downturn since The Great Depression, but do you remember what happened the last time innovation and creativity collapsed worldwide? No, you don’t and neither does anyone else because written records from that period of history are so damn scarce that we refer to it as the dark ages!

“Got it? … Good! Now f— off!”


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