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90 Percent of Businesses Say IP Is "Not Important" 185

Posted by timothy
from the maybe-not-to-them-in-particular dept.
langelgjm writes "In 2009, the National Science Foundation teamed up with the Census Bureau to ask U.S. businesses how important intellectual property was to them. Now, after three years of surveys, the results are in. Astonishingly, it turns out that when asked, 90 percent of businesses say intellectual property is 'not important'. While some very large businesses and specific sectors indicate that patents, copyrights, and trademarks are important, overall, the figures are shockingly low. What's more, the survey's results have received hardly any press. It appears that formal intellectual property protection is far less important to the vast majority of U.S. businesses than some federal agencies, such as the patent office, are willing to admit."
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90 Percent of Businesses Say IP Is "Not Important"

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  • by j. andrew rogers (774820) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @10:56AM (#45753477)

    The vast majority of businesses have no significant branding to speak of, publish no significant media, and do no significant R&D. To put some perspective on it, there are more companies in the US than there are individual engineers and very few companies produce anything where copyright is central to the business.

    Most businesses are built almost entirely on individual customer relationships. Restaurants, contractors, specialty manufacturers, agriculture, etc. In all of these areas there are a few outliers that develop a substantial brand that they trademark but more often than not the "brand" is the individuals that work there or run the business so trademarks simply are not that important to their success.

    I think this is surprising to people only because most of the largest and most visible American companies do have substantial investment in IP, so it is an availability bias. It overlooks the myriad smaller companies that have little investment in IP. It would probably be fair to say that IP is important to a significant percentage of the American economy but only because it tends to be concentrated in many of the largest and most successful companies. It is not evenly distributed across all companies.

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @11:22AM (#45753645) Homepage

    I worked for over a decade at a midsized company, founded in the late sixties, whose business was the manufacture of $30,000-$100,000 high-tech products. The development process included internal firmware, quite a lot of interesting and non-obvious mechanical and optical engineering, and driver software.

    To say they were casual about intellectual property was putting it mildly. The mindset seemed to be, basically, that they copied good ideas from the competition and expected the competition to copy ideas from them. (I do mean IDEAS though, nothing more). They felt their business success depended on getting needed products to market in a timely way, and that it was all about good execution of ideas, not exclusive possession of ideas.

    All of us software people put copyright notices on our code because we just thought it was good practice, but nobody told us to do so or send out memos on how to do it or monitored us to make sure we were doing it right.

    I created a mini dust-up once when the head of marketing told me to send the complete source code to one of our software drivers to another company--a 200-age listing--and I said sure, but that I wouldn't do it without written directions from an officer of the company. He was furious that I would even question his directions and insisting that it was inappropriate for me to demur because it was no big deal, and I replied, sincerely, that I didn't think it was a big deal, either--in context it really wasn't--but that nevertheless I thought I needed to have that level of authorization, and that since it wasn't a big deal it shouldn't be hard to get it. It's not that he was being a PHB, either--the point is that nobody in the company quite got it that maybe you didn't just send out half a pound of listing on a casual say-so.

    For a while, there was one mid-level manager who liked patents and embarked on a semi-systematic effort to get things patented, and recognize engineers by posting framed notices about the patents that they had gotten--there were maybe about ten such frames on the wall by the time he left. But it was not part of the corporate culture.

    I don't remember ever hearing about the company suing or being sued over a patent except for one case, where it was embroiled as a party in a lawsuit involving some software components they had purchased and licensed from another firm.

  • It is logical... unless you're the U.S. Patent Office, which claims that IP is responsible for 40 million jobs and 35% of the U.S. GDP. [...] if 90% of businesses say its not important,

    No. And also no. I mean, I'm as skeptical of the patent office's numbers as the next guy, but seriously. If I'm the guy who buys the solution, I might not think the patents are that important, because I'm not explicitly licensing them. I buy a product from someone who's licensed the patent, all that is abstracted away from me. But if I'm dependent on that thing, and the thing wouldn't have been created/marketed without a patent, then I'm dependent on the IP. The real question then becomes how much of this stuff would be designed, built, and sold even if anyone could build it. Some things clearly fall into that category, and there's probably plenty the USPTO is taking credit for there that they shouldn't.

    On the other hand, exports of American media are wholly dependent upon IP. If anyone could legally profit from copying your movie, then you wouldn't spend a lot of money making one. Whole classes of entertainment involving costly special effects would not exist at all. Clearly, there are industries wholly dependent upon it.

  • It is important (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @04:51PM (#45755877)

    But if you think strategically important IP is going to be put into a patent, you're nuts. That just gives the competition a head start on working around the technology or business method. If I have a better way of doing business, I'm going to do my best to keep that to myself. Perhaps plant a few false leads and use some misdirection to keep my competitors guessing as to why we are so successful.

    So, when asked, I'm going to say, "No. No special IP here. Just lots of hard work, blood, sweat and tears."

    This is also one reason so many people are nervous about the NSA. You think Snowden was the only person making off with intelligence? It has been standard practice among various businesses (particularly those doing work in the military/intelligence area) to have a few buddies in intelligence agencies who can slip you some info. on what the competition is up to.

A sheet of paper is an ink-lined plane. -- Willard Espy, "An Almanac of Words at Play"