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[Herald Interview] ‘Intellectual property is strategic tool for fast-changing modern world'

SINGAPORE -- At the presence of the “fourth industrial revolution,” governments are pressed to come up with a comprehensive technological and economic blueprint to survive in the hectic modern world -- and this is where intellectual property comes into spotlight, according to the chief of a leading international authority group.

“One of the core strategies for individual governments is to create a business environment which allows an easy influx and acquisition of advanced foreign technology,” Francis Gurry, director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization, told The Korea Herald in an interview.

“This is because it can never be possible for all brains to be located within a single legal entity, and the technology required for a specific business is usually spread out across the world.”

The video call interview came on the sidelines of a two-day media event, taking place in the organization’s regional office in Singapore on Monday and Tuesday.

Francis Gurry, director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
Francis Gurry, director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

“Statistics on intellectual property, such as the number of patent applications, may act as an index showing how interactive a given government is on cross-border technological transfer,” he also added.

When applying for patents in various countries, global innovative players tend to place focus on locations where they see a plausible chance of making profits upon their intellectual assets, according to the WIPO official.

“Most countries tend to have far more foreign patent applications than domestic ones, the few exceptions being China and sometimes the United States,” he said.

“This is only too natural. Given that patents are territorial concepts, subject to individual jurisdiction, there may only be an outstripping number of foreign applicants by those who wish to extend their intellectual property rights abroad.”

Government road maps should also extend to education policies, immigration laws and other regulations so as to create a hospitable environment for foreign technology and investment, the director general added, taking China as an example.

“As can be observed in its use of the keyword ‘created in China,’ the country is increasingly seeking to transform its image from manufacturing factory to innovation laboratory,” he said.

While keeping a balanced view on economic growth and innovation in general, ambitious economies should at all times remain keen on the intellectual property agenda, the WIPO chief added.

“The expansion of intellectual property sectors has far outpaced the global economic growth, indicating that governments and economic players are increasingly using intellectual assets in their commercial activities,” he said.

“There is currently a clear transition of wealth from conventional physical forms of assets to intangible intellectual ones.”

According to WIPO’s recently published annual report, the world saw an 8.3 percent growth in the number of patent applications last year and a 16.4 percent growth in trademarks.

What should be noted is that a substantial portion of such intellectual property market growth has been taking place in Asia, with China and South Korea in the lead and other Southeast Asian countries following suit, according to Gurry.

Asian countries accounted for 64.6 percent of patent applications, 60 percent of trademarks and 69 percent of design applications worldwide as of the end of last year. Given that the figures did not include creative industries, the actual leverage is estimated to be higher, according to the WIPO report.

Despite the obvious importance of the intellectual property agenda, there has been little success in establishing related rules, due to the large economic and technological disparity among countries, the official added.

“While intellectual assets and economic activities are highly mobile, the concept of intellectual property remains a territorial concept, which creates a clear contrast,” he said, taking the Samsung-Apple smartphone patent litigation as an example.

“What made the issue all the more complicated is the multijurisdiction lawsuits, involving a number of different governments and courts across the world,” he said.

“There is not yet an international institution which may take charge, so what WIPO may do at the current stage is to provide a regulatory framework to promote transparency to global competition.”

By Bae Hyun-jung, Korea Herald correspondent