IP & Innovation: Complementary Tools in a COVID-19 Economy – Reuters

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Since COVID-19, business models have had to be hurriedly redrawn and with these changes come a heightened importance of intangible assets

There are countless reasons to detest this sub-microscopic parasite that has upended almost every aspect of our lives. But the push to innovate catalysed by this virus could be it’s one saving grace. 

“COVID-19 has accelerated change and is spurring innovation,” says Adrian Tan, partner and head of IP & TMT at TSMP Law Corporation. “A big reset will demand big ideas and those big ideas require IP protection.”

The Big Reset

Around the world, hundreds of companies are inventing new ways to beat the virus or to hold it at bay. From vaccines, to temperature surveillance systems or protective gear, the world is racing against this deathly speck. But for innovation to be as productive as possible, intellectual property is key. The best way to harness creativity and enable innovative enterprises to grow is through a reliable IP framework.  

“COVID-19 focused our minds on new, alternative and innovative ways to leverage our IP assets and our brand,” said Choo Wei-Pin, Chief Legal and Compliance Officer at Razer. Typically, Razer is known among gamers for its hardware, but since the pandemic, the company was able to pivot and start a mask production line in just 24 days.(1) 

“If we didn’t have a solid IP portfolio, it would have been difficult for us to do all these things off the back of the Razer brand so quickly,” says Choo, whose company has over 1000 patent and registered designs and about 2000 trademark applications and registrations. 

Aside from thinking of unconventional ways to leverage IP, Choo mentions that in general due to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, companies are looking at more collaborative IP strategies. Rather than traditional unilateral IP registration strategies,  companies are engaging more in technology sharing and licensing arrangements.  

With so much sharing of knowledge, contracts that clearly define IP rights between companies help lay out what each party can contribute and how the outcomes of any efforts can be shared.

Rethinking Business Models

COVID-19 and its changes to the operating environment (in particular the introduction of safe distancing measures) as a whole is fast tracking digital transformation. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella remarked recently that two years’ worth of digital transformation has taken place in two months.(2)

And as the world races along this digitisation path, IP’s role in the global economy is becoming more significant. Many of the companies allowing us to carry on in this new normal do not trade in goods but in services, ideas, technology and data. 

Unsurprisingly, as offices remain empty, usage of Microsoft’s Virtual Desktop has grown more than three times(3)  and Zoom’s customer base has spiked by 354% year-on-year(4) It may not be obvious as one joins their fifth Zoom meeting of the day but for that interaction to take place, that technology needed to be protected through IP such as patents.

As the economy pivots away from traditional brick and mortar platforms, a new consumer has emerged that is focussed on convenience through online retail. Gone are the days where people casually pop into a shop to get their retail fix. This means that businesses need to have a serious rethink about how they engage with their customers and clients. Brands need to make sure they have a robust digital brand protection strategy.(5)

“During this pandemic, we’ve seen new business models being adopted,” said Andy Leck, Principal and head of the IP practice at Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow “It’s been a challenge for many traditional industries to market their brands and create a buzz. But with these challenges comes new opportunities and with new ideas come IP opportunities too.”

As businesses adapt to new ways of operating and serving customers, they are using their brands in new ways and need protection for those uses, for example by registering a trade mark. 

Even in the realm of entertainment, musicians and artists that are usually dependent on live audiences are moving into the digital space. In order to help many of these, The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) recently published a set of FAQs to help content owners understand the IP hurdles relating to distribution of digital content.

In anticipation of increased demand for IP assistance during the pandemic, IPOS doubled the frequency of its complimentary IP business and Legal Clinics and moved it onto a virtual platform.

IPOS also launched the SG Patent Fast Track programme in May to accelerate patent applications to just six months, creating the world’s fastest application-to-grant process of its kind.

No Turning Back

“COVID-19 is a gamechanger that has pushed us to realise just how hungry we are for technology,” says Adrian Tan. “We wouldn’t have made these changes without the pandemic and there is no turning back.”

Companies need to jump on the bandwagon and embrace innovation as opportunities continue to exist in this COVID-19 economy.  As the pandemic corners the world into embracing digitalisation, this is accompanied by a heightened importance of IP in today’s COVID-19 economy.

More from this series

IP in A COVID-19 Economy

COVID-19 is spurring innovation and along with this comes a push for Intellectual Property

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(1) here

(2) here(3) here  (4) here(5) here(6) here

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