As a species, we are defined by our ingenuity. The value we place on this characteristic has influenced even the name we have given ourselves – homo sapiens. It has also allowed us to flourish.
Francis Bacon said that "knowledge is power" and, indeed, knowledge has made us the most powerful animal on the planet. It has allowed us to develop from small, isolated bands of hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago, to today’s interconnected, global community of information-gatherers in which over 3 billion of us are linked by mobile phone and almost 1.5 billion by Internet.
As we have become increasingly dependent on technology to protect, amuse, feed and care for us, the value of the innovation and creativity behind it has correspondingly risen.
Growing interdependence among our societies has, in addition, given innovation and creativity a cross-border, universally recognized value – a common currency of sorts. It is a currency with multiple benefits, not only in and of itself (medical imaging or exquisite music) but also through the economic benefits it can generate. The IP system has, therefore, been an almost inevitable construct, within and between nations, to encourage the creation of that currency and to manage and protect it.
With the quickening pace of technological evolution and the increasingly central role it plays in economic and social well-being, the focus on the IP system is intensifying and sharpening. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), as the leading intergovernmental forum dealing with IP issues, has, thus, been thrust into the spotlight, after many years of relative anonymity.
WIPO takes the lead:
The speed at which technology develops constantly surprises even the experts: from Lord Kelvin, the President of the Royal Society in 1895 (“heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible”) to the Chairman of IBM in 1943 (“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”) and Bill Gates in 1981 (“640 K ought to be enough for anybody”).
This constantly expanding body of technological knowledge is captured and safe-guarded by the patent system, creating a resource of immense actual (and potential) value.