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Out-Law Analysis 5 min. read

World IP Day 2022: how IP can support young change-makers

Young people have a history of driving changes that benefit society. Intellectual property (IP) rights offer tools to help today’s innovative youth tackle problems that threaten their tomorrow, from climate change to access to health care.

World Intellectual Property Day 2022 on 26 April aims to celebrate youth-led innovation, and showcase how the tools of the intellectual property (IP) system – trade marks, design rights, copyright, patents, trade secrets and more – can support young people in building a better future.

Incentivising innovation and creativity

IP rights incentivise creativity and innovation, enable creators to benefit from their work and protect from exploitation by others.

IP is essential in helping big businesses, but the role of young change makers, who are connected to the issues of the day, should not be underestimated. 

In 1824, Louis Braille developed the first iteration of his revolutionary tactile writing system which enabled visually impaired people to read and communicate – he was only 15 years old. 

More recently, Keiana Cavé was inspired by the catastrophic Deep Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico, and at 15 years old began studying what happens to oil when it is left on the ocean’s surface. She discovered that when oil is hit by UV rays from the sun, it reacts to form chemicals that are carcinogenic. She has since developed and patented chemical methods of detecting the carcinogens. 

A patent is a monopoly right, which may be granted to protect a new invention, including a product, process, method or device. Patents are crucial for protecting inventions in core global territories, and are therefore valuable business assets which may be commercialised through licensing to generate income for a business, which may be re-invested to promote further innovation.

Patents are often the subject of high-profile disputes, in particular in the life sciences and technology sector, given the high value of the products they often protect. The decision of the Paris Judiciary Court to award pharmaceuticals manufacturer Eli Lilly €28 million in provisional damages to account for the infringement of its patent for an anti-cancer treatment is a good example of the importance of a patent in protecting a valuable asset.

Obtaining and registering IP rights at an early stage of a business’ life cycle can be critical. In the life sciences sector, start-ups need substantial sums of money to fund their research and development activities. Securing patents to protect their valuable innovations, as well as trade marks to protect the name of the company, product or service, will aid in attracting investors and scaling up operations, and will also help businesses expand and grow.

Data and other useful information often arise from innovations. Such confidential information and trade secrets are themselves extremely valuable and should be protected by the correct contractual framework to prevent loss or misuse.

Copyright and a celebration of young creatives

Innovation is often associated with patentable ‘inventions’ but the term has a broader meaning and also refers to the development of new products, the shape or appearance of which are protected by design rights, as well as creative endeavour resulting in original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works that benefit from copyright protection.

Young artists, authors and songwriters make regular, and often high-profile, contributions in the creative space. For example, Christopher Paolini is the youngest published author of a blockbuster book. ‘Eragon’ was published when he was just 18. Billie Eilish was only 15 years old when she released her debut song, ‘Ocean Eyes’, which was co-written by her 18-year-old brother Finneas O’Connell.

Whether the content is to individuals’ taste or not, these artistic endeavours make a valuable cultural contribution to society. Artist innovators need to be incentivised to create these works, and they are often reliant on their talents to produce an income for them. Copyright prevents others copying the work, and enables the author to charge royalties to anyone who wants to use it. 

The recent high-profile copyright dispute involving Ed Sheeran  shows that copyright is a powerful IP right which protects the works of all creative innovators, large or small, famous or unknown.

A role in our everyday lives

Ed Sheeran is not the first household name to be locked into an IP dispute.  The dispute between Marks & Spencer and Aldi concerning the design of the much loved ‘Colin the Caterpillar’ cake also hit the headlines recently. The matter was settled out of court, although another similar dispute has arisen between the same parties concerning the design of light up drinks bottles. These disputes highlight the importance of IP in our daily lives. Each of us interacts with products and process, brands and creative works that are protected by IP every day.

The value of IP rights to global businesses cannot be underestimated, as demonstrated by the global litigation between Apple and Optis. This dispute relates to certain patents which underpin the technology relied upon by Apple’s mobile devices, and has led to Apple facing a potential injunction in the UK, where sales of the iPhone and iPad may be restricted.

Current challenges: pandemics and climate change

Everyday experiences often inspire innovation. Mihir Sheth, one of the winners of Innovate UK’s Young Innovator Awards 2021/22, is an example of this. The need for ventilators during the Covid-19 pandemic inspired Mihir to co-invent Inspiritus Health, a simple to use, non-invasive medical device that keeps patients’ muscles engaged when they are on a ventilator to prevent muscle wastage and wean patients off ventilators quicker: “Everyone was looking at getting patients on a ventilator, but no one was looking at how to get them off. It blew my mind,” Sheth told UK Research and Innovation

The pandemic highlighted the importance of vaccines and treatments for disease. While the focus of innovation in the life sciences sector has focussed on this in recent times, it should not detract from other challenges facing the world – not least access to health care in underdeveloped countries. Life sciences and healthcare companies are increasingly looking to artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline clinical and non-clinical processes, improve the diagnosis of diseases, and speed up the development of new medicines and other treatments.

Climate change and sustainability is also a growing boardroom issue. Solutions are being driven by the creators of tomorrow, as highlighted by WIPO’s Youth Gallery and by individuals such as Paul Gross, co-founder of Remora, which retrofits semi-trucks with a device designed to capture at least 80% of all carbon emissions. The captured carbon dioxide is then offloaded at a distribution centre where it is sold to concrete companies, who use CO2 in the curing process for cement, improving the strength of the concrete and transforming the harmful CO2 gas into a mineral.

Goss told the Startups for Good podcast: “It is really important where there is so little time to go after the climate crisis that we don’t try to go after solutions that have no hope of scaling in time – so I tried to be really strict with myself to make sure that we were going to pursue a technology that would actually help and would actually reduce a lot of emissions.”

IP rights which underpin the technology to find solutions to climate change are likely to be important, not only to protect such innovations from copying or exploitation and secure necessary funding, but also to ensure that the developer does not themselves infringe any third party IP rights. In particular, greater data visualisation AI and machine learning are already a credible means to mitigate some of the risks of climate change and its effects, such as the risk of unpredictable weather patterns on communities and infrastructure. We have seen, for example, the use of AI-based flood monitoring to detect rising water levels and alert emergency services as to the worst hit areas. 

Looking to the future

The need for innovative solutions for the challenges facing the world today is clear. We will depend on today’s tech savvy generation to identify many of these solutions.

Members of our team have shared their views on how evolving IP rights may be used to secure a better future for us all, and their advice to future innovators.

Additional research undertaken by Matthew Wilson.

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