Over the past few months, I had several opportunities to engage in the conversation about the role of Intellectual Property (IP) in the new world of Digital, and in so doing, I’ve managed to tease out certain key questions and concerns surrounding this topic, e.g.: What challenges and opportunities does IP bring to the Digital feast? How does the ‘sharing’ economy affect established notions of IP, and how effective are current efforts to update and harmonise IP in the digital age? The answers are slowly revealing themselves, but the following observation points will hopefully highlight the way.
What is Digital?
The term “Digital” means different things to different people, (including those that consider it an extremely irritating term for something old repackaged as a new ‘buzzword’). In my opinion, the term Digital can be used to describe various new and emerging products / services / processes / user behaviours etc., that are enabled by digital technology. It works equally well in describing innovative, disruptive trends (e.g. big data and predictive analytics) and / or re-imagination of pre-existing technologies (e.g. Cloud).
How does IP figure into it?
Intellectual property is the concept and mechanism through which creators and owners of “works of the mind” may derive economic benefits from their works (e.g.: inventions, designs, works of art, and trademarks). By its very nature, IP is constantly challenged by those self same things for which it was designed – e.g. printing press, audio-visual capture, playback and distribution technologies, and even this new fangled 3D printing. The Digital world merely amplifies an age old problem which reappears with alarming regularity with each new shift or breakthrough in technology. However, this particular incarnation also begs the question of whether the concept of IP is intrinsically flawed in a digital universe
Key Trends in society / technology / business
In any discussion on this topic (i.e. IP and the digital economy), you’ll invariably pick upon certain trends as key catalysts for change, which typically fall into any of following groups: socio-economic trends, technology trends and business trends. If you don’t believe me, then go ahead and give it a try with any of the following trends e.g.: social media, aging population, real-time dynamic pricing, predictive analytics, digital transformation, 3D printing, and even “sharing economy”. Such trends are redefining how we live and do business in a digital world, but are they all merely symptoms of the same phenomenon?
How will law and regulation keep up?
Not very well, I’m afraid. How can we best apply governance to emerging phenomena such as Digital? To say it is very difficult would be an understatement, considering that these changes also affect the law, and law makers, too. This is a perfect example of what city planners and business school professors consider to be a “wicked problem”. Existing rules of society and international law struggle to encompass the global reach and impact of digital technologies whereby information can spread, at the speed of light, to all corners of the world heralding the lofty dawn of unified global thought, sentiment and action, or anarchy. In order to remain relevant and useful, the concept of IP needs a major rethink and rework to align with a dynamic digital landscape. However, this is not the preserve of a few sovereign governments, and more needs to be done (at an international, collaborative level) to even begin nursing any hope of having an impact on Digital and human cultural evolution.
Digital transformation and business model innovation
In my opinion, the future of business lies in the ability to reinvent itself and take best advantage of the constantly emerging game-changing technologies, products, services, and usage paradigms. One such avenue is via business model innovation – a technique that makes use of a simple business model canvas to articulate any business model, in a fast and dynamic way. Technology is no longer a barrier to entry, therefore the true measure of fitness must have to do with a business model’s flexibility and adaptability (for competitive advantage) in the digital universe.
In summary, and regardless of where I’ve held these conversations (e.g. at the Copyright and Technology Conference, or Digital Economy and Law Conference, and even at the BCS, Chartered Institute for IT), these same questions and concerns have become a recurring theme.
Ps. I will look to delve into these topics at my next speaking event, on the 22nd of January 2014, and hope to provide further insight and provocative questions on digital economy and IP. Also, we’ll get to hear a speaker from one of the world’s foremost organisations at the forefront of Digital. Don’t miss it (or at least come by and say hello), if you happen to be in London on that day.
“This house believes that academic education will never satisfy the skills needs of the IT Profession” was the title of last week’s Oxford Union style debate, jointly hosted by BCS Chartered Institute for IT (via Learning Development Specialist Group) and the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, at Armourer’s Hall in the City of London.
In this historical and fully weaponised environment, (with apparently enough arms and armour to record an episode of The Game of Thrones), the scene was set for a pitched battle between two teams, for and against the house position, with limited audience participation and a final vote to decide the winners. Some key observations from the debate include:
- Academic education provides a foundation for the skills needed to work in IT, and much like a building’s foundation, “you can’t live in it but you can build great structures upon it”
- Academic education only teaches the core skills (e.g. how to think) for working in IT, but education also happens through out life, and not just during periods of formal education
- Academic education is insufficient for working in IT because it is purposely designed to cater for more cerebral, rather than hands-on, skills training.
- Apprenticeships may be necessary but universities and other educational institutions are not best suited for apprenticeships. The IT industry should play its part too.
- In no other profession would you trust a fresh graduate with key responsibilities. Academic education provides the live ware, but it’s the employer’s job to configure them.
- Both sides seemed almost in violent agreement that academic education in itself wasn’t sufficient for the IT profession, however the opposition felt this was more a design feature rather than outright flaw.
Overall, I got the impression that attendees may have expected something a tad more passionate than the well argued but mostly polite points and counterpoints from both sides.
Furthermore, some interesting slants were omitted in the debate, e.g. digital entrepreneurship as a viable option for freshly minted graduates. According to one attendee, academic education could do more to encourage and equip students to create, or seek to work, in new start-ups after graduation. This could pay off in many ways e.g. by providing graduates with: practical on-the-job training; immediate employment; business relevant skills and unfettered creativity (which are not always available within a rigid corporate environment), besides – fresh graduates likely have ‘nothing to lose’ and everything to gain by doing this at this stage in their careers. Even more to the point, corporates will also benefit by recruiting seasoned and experienced entrepreneurs with more practical and immediately deployable skills.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this particular event; the topic / debate, the excellent venue and networking opportunities all made for a brilliant evening, and I feel very fortunate to be able to participate in, and sometimes contribute to, events such as these that help move the industry forward. Next week, we’ve scheduled an event featuring Andy Mulholland (Capgemini’s ex-Global CTO), who will speak about the emerging digital enterprise. Do register and try to attend if at all possible – it promises to be another excellent event, courtesy of the BCS North London and BCS Elite groups.
“Don’t just ask what the role of the IT department in the Enterprise should be; Ask what the role of Technology should be in the Business of the Enterprise.”
That was the tagline for last week’s sell-out event at the BCS, Chartered Institute for IT, which featured Capgemini’s CTO, Andy Mulholland. Attendees were treated to riveting talk by Andy, in which he described the trends, implications and impact of innovation, especially the evolution (in back-office) and revolution (in front-office) of technology and the enterprise. To further drive home the point, Andy outlined what he calls the top ten game changing technology shifts for enterprises to watch and understand, e.g.: people and social tools, the user experience, big data, user driven IT environments (aka consumerisation), and mobility, to name just a few.
And if that wasn’t enough, the second speaker / session at this event provided a practical hands-on demonstration of what might be described as a prototype for ‘crowd-sourced innovation’ in action. This session, which was led by Destination-Innovation’s Paul Sloane, involved attendees forming into small groups in order to explore painful ‘real life’ problems, and to come up with an innovative approach to resolving one of them. The outcome was then played back to the larger group, and suffice it to say that some of the suggestions were astonishing, and one attendee commented afterwards, saying: “It’s amazing what you can achieve in a short period of time”.
Overall, this event provided a great mix of comprehensive knowledge and innovation foresight, along with some practical application of innovative techniques to address them; resulting in a balanced, demonstrable experience of how challenges posed by technology disruption may be met in turn by an innovative approach designed to harness individual creativity. For an event organised, in their spare time, by a bunch of volunteer committee members / helpers of the BCS, North London Branch, (including yours truly), I think this was an excellent outcome.