IPAN: improving IP awareness and understanding in the UK

December 2014

By Professor Ruth Soetendorp, Chair of the Intellectual Property Awareness Network and of IPAN’s Education Group

The Intellectual Property Awareness Network (IPAN) is a unique, independent network of organizations and individuals committed to improving awareness and understanding of intellectual property (IP) and its impact on business in the UK. Members include a wide range of commercial, financial, professional and academic organizations, all with a shared enthusiasm for IP and a passionate belief in its critical role in the developing “knowledge” economy.

IPAN seeks to strengthen understanding of IP to improve the functioning of the knowledge market. Drawing on the experience of its members which spans a broad range of sectors, the Network offers a unique source of IP intelligence. No other group in the UK brings together such a wide range of IP champions.

IPAN is not a lobbying organization and does not represent the view of any particular sector. It sees itself as an independent thought leader, ready to ask the questions other institutions may not be in a position to address or may seek to avoid.

Members of the IPAN Board and Yoshiyuki Takagi, WIPO Assistant Director General, at IPAN’s World IP Day event in April 2014. (Photo: IPAN)

Working groups on education, parliament and finance and economics

The Network’s activities are organized around three working groups: on education, parliament, and finance and economics. The Parliamentary Group seeks to ensure that IPAN’s voice is known to parliamentarians and businesses as an unbiased authoritative IP resource. It co-ordinates the Network’s range of short briefing documents that provide a balanced introduction (primarily for the benefit of parliamentarians and policy makers) to a range of topical IP issues. These evidence-based Issue Briefs, (available at www.ipaware.net) are written by experts from the IPAN community and are designed to inform and aid basic understanding of issues. They offer snapshots of important and often complex IP issues and provide external references for further reading or research.

IPAN’s important work is recognized at the highest levels of UK government. In a message to IPAN’s fourth World IP Day celebration in April 2014, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, said, “The inventive spirit is hard-wired into us. Finding easier and better ways of living lives and doing business is at the heart of everything we do – and at the very heart of our economic success. That’s why it matters that UK businesses, inventors and creators benefit from a world class environment for creating and using IP”.

The Finance and Economics Group addresses issues relating to IP financing. Small and medium-sized businesses face a range of challenges when it comes to financing and managing their IP. The Group works with financial institutions, IP valuation specialists and organizations representing the interests of business to develop tools that facilitate the identification, valuation and management of IP assets as part of the business wealth portfolio.

IPAN’s Education Group has long championed the need to improve IP education across UK higher education and not just for those studying law. The Group has worked with the Engineering Council UK and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants to include IP as part of their membership accreditation. Such professional bodies are uniquely placed to influence academic faculties in their IP teaching and IPAN plans to expand this work.

Recognizing the need to evaluate the extent of IP education across UK higher education institutions (HEIs), IPAN’s Education Group decided to research student attitudes to IP, with the expectation that this would stimulate awareness of IP rights across the higher education sector.

Recognizing the need to evaluate the extent of IP education across UK higher education institutions (HEIs), research spearheaded by IPAN’s Education Group points to the need to re-think IP education in UK universities and HEIs. While students have a real enthusiasm for IP, they have little awareness of its commercial potential. (Photo : iStock © PeopleImages)

Survey on student attitudes to IP

Funded by the UK IP Office, a steering group led by IPAN worked with UK IPO and UK National Union of Students (NUS) researchers to survey student attitudes to IP. The data generated points to the need to re-think IP education in UK universities and HEIs. It reveals that students have a real enthusiasm for IP, but little awareness of its commercial potential. Most students believe that the way they are taught about IP does not equip them for their future careers and that universities and colleges focus too much on negative behavior, such as plagiarism, and not enough on the benefits of IP rights, such as patents, trademarks and registered designs. “It is concerning how little is known about the attitudes and experiences of IP education within the UK student body,” commented NUS Vice-President, Rachel Wenstone, in her foreword to the PDF, title goes hereresearch report .

In welcoming the findings of the report, David Willetts, former UK Minister for Universities and Science said, “It is vital that we have an IP literate workforce to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing workplace. I believe the key to success is to garner support from professional bodies responsible for accrediting courses, as well as university and industry and to use that support to bring about changes to the curriculum.”

The research, which has been widely cited, was presented at an NUS summer conference in 2013. NUS participants acknowledged that since students visit NUS on-campus offices for assistance in handling a diversity of problems, it would be useful if these offices were also able to offer them access to IP advice. The resource implications are great, but it is a possibility which NUS and UK IPO have agreed to consider further. The 40 academics at the 2013 European Intellectual Property Teachers Network EIPTN meeting in Lisbon discussed the report and were encouraged that 77 percent of students felt IP was relevant to their future career. They were less impressed to learn that only 52 percent of students felt their tutors were informed about IP “to some degree”.

The inventive spirit is hard-wired into us. Finding easier and better ways of living lives and doing business is at the heart of everything we do – and at the very heart of our economic success. That’s why it matters that UK businesses, inventors and creators benefit from a world class environment for creating and using IP.

David Cameron, UK Prime Minister

IP policy status in universities

Neither IPAN nor NUS has been able to identify similar research undertaken elsewhere which aims to capture the student voice on the subject of IP education. On the basis of insights generated by its first collaboration, IPAN’s Education Group is continuing to work with NUS to assess understanding of IP issues among the student population in HEIs. The second research collaboration will examine the IP policies that are required by the UK government to be in place at all HEIs. These policies determine ownership of student IP rights in the creative, innovative or inventive work they produce while registered on a higher education program. Currently, there is no standard IP policy nor is there a tradition of HEIs informing students of the content of their IP policy. As a result, before they enroll on a course, students do not have a clear understanding of what the situation might be regarding any commercially valuable IP they may create in the course of their studies. This can be particularly discouraging for students of design and other creative disciplines. This research project will seek to determine the extent to which students (and academic staff) are aware of the IP policy in operation on their campus, and students’ opinions about the effectiveness of such policies to support their understanding of IP and its protection.

Eminent UK design industry players have expressed interest in this work. Mandy Haberman, an IPAN board member, inventor, entrepreneur and designer of the Anywayupcup®, is a regular visitor to graduate design shows. Her dismay at the poor levels of IP awareness among graduating students was a catalyst for the research.

Sebastian Conran, of the eponymous design associates www.sebastianconran.com, is supporting the research because he feels “UK universities rarely protect or exploit student IP extensively. If they do, and revenue results, they treat the student as if they were an employee. But these fee-paying students don't get salaries, pensions or other employee benefits, quite the opposite now they have to pay significant amounts for their further education.
To make matters worse for fee-paying design students, universities who run degree shows often disclose unprotected ideas to the public, making a patent application or design registration impossible afterwards.”

Embedding IP education in curricula

IPAN has members from, and links with, a number of UK business schools. The Education Group is keenly aware that even in a business school with an IP enthusiast on its staff, the challenge to embed IP education in the school’s curriculum is great. Gradually, however, business schools are waking up to the need for their postgraduates to be able to offer employers IP intelligence and wisdom. The Group will be looking for ways to encourage them to embrace IP in their programs.

In all its endeavors, the Education Group benefits from being able to draw on the wide experience of IPAN’s membership in the area of IP education and examines how it (or the lack of it) affects graduate career prospects.

Whatever the future, wherever the next big ideas come from, IPAN is working hard to ensure that future generations will be introduced to IP rights as part of their higher education in the UK.

Keen to build on its 21-year heritage, and to expand its network and deepen understanding of the importance and value of IP across a variety of economic sectors, IPAN is eager to hear from anyone operating similar networks in other countries. For those who would like to set up an IP awareness network in their own country, or who would like to learn more about IPAN’s research work, please contact the Network at: ipan@ipaware.net

About IPAN

IPAN was formed in 1993 on the initiative of Dr. John Reid, then President of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA). Its initial aim - to improve IP awareness among parliamentarians and government policy makers and in the higher education sector - has recently expanded to the finance and economics sectors. With a view to improving IP awareness, IPAN targets three interest groups: parliamentarians, the finance and economics sectors and IP education.

The network currently has 40 member organizations, largely represented by non-specialists rather than IP lawyers. It operates on a not-for-profit basis and meets quarterly at CIPA’s offices in London to assess progress with on-going initiatives and to discuss topical IP issues, such as the work of the CREATe Centre for copyright and new business models in the creative economy.

The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.