Communicating the value and importance of intellectual property to the general public — let alone investors, C-suite executives, and politicians — is a formidable challenge that exists industry-wide. This is partly due to the reality that writing cogently about intellectual property requires an understanding of business, law, science and finance.
In the third episode of Season 2 of “Understanding IP Matters,” the podcast from the Center for IP Understanding, founder and host Bruce Berman sits down with two legendary figures in the field of intellectual property reporting.
Gene Quinn is CEO of IPWatchdog, the most widely read publication in the intellectual property field. With more than 300,000 monthly visitors, IPWatchdog’s go-to coverage is a must read. Quinn is also a writer, patent attorney and leading commentator on innovation policy. He has twice been named one of the Top 50 most influential people in intellectual property. Quinn has advised inventors, entrepreneurs and startup businesses, and is highly regarded as a teacher and speaker.
Sue Decker covered patent litigation and policy from Washington for Bloomberg News for more than two decades. She retired this year after 35 years in journalism. Decker was one of the very few business reporters ever to have a dedicated IP beat, and the first woman. Prior to joining Bloomberg in 1999, she spent five years covering crime and the courts for Florida Today. “The patents beat exposed me to every industry,” she says. “Litigation provides a window into the growing pains and struggles of an industry, while patents tend to give a glimpse into the future.”
Reporting on IP developments poses unique challenges: Legal, technical, and financial. It isn’t easy making IP developments like lawsuits interesting. What are the greatest challenges?
Decker: “Partly, it’s getting editors to appreciate it. That was my biggest challenge. People tend to think patents are very complicated, in large part because it has all its own vernacular. It’s the only area of law that has its own appeals court, but it’s actually not that difficult. There’s always a story behind the patent suits. There’s always a story of the inventor. There’s a story of the industry. There’s this story of how it affects consumers. There’s always a story behind it.
It’s just finding that story — the why of it all.”
Quinn: “I completely agree with Sue. Patent cases can be extremely complicated when technology is very difficult and thick. One of the things that I’ve always tried to focus on are the issues that people can really understand and grasp.
So, I’ve always gravitated to the procedural unfairness in issues. You know, a lot of these cases, they could go either way. Is this invention, is it obvious? Is it not obvious? That gets into very thick technical issues with experts, and it goes over people’s heads. But whether or not the inventor had an opportunity to actually tell their story in front of a judge, you know, that’s a real issue, you know. And sometimes, they don’t get that opportunity, you know, in various tribunals. And I think that strikes people as unfair. That’s the story I like to tell.”
IP owners of all types and orientations may disagree on a lot, but they all agree on three things: That IP is misunderstood, frequently undervalued, and often infringed. Almost no one else gets that in the real world. How important is it that audiences understand this dynamic?
Quinn: “It’s critical, particularly in younger people. The reason I say that is because what you learn when you’re young then starts becoming ingrained in you, you know? The Napster generation just grew up with, music is free.
No, music is not free! Somebody — a lot of somebodies — have spent a lot of time putting that together. In a former life, I was a co-owner of an independent record label, so I know everything that goes into it. It’s not just a person who wrote the music and the band who plays it. There’s a sound engineer and all of the marketing people, and then there’s the booking agents who book the band — you can go on and on and on and on and on.
If you’re just stealing this, you are really disrupting an enormous amount of commerce and hurting jobs.”
Decker: “I would also blame the big tech companies because they have spent so much time denigrating patents under what I refer to the ‘George Carlin law’ of patents. My stuff is stuff and your stuff is crap.
When I first started talking to Microsoft about patents, they were very, very down on patents. Patents are horrible; patents cause all such problems. Then they started obtaining patents and it became like a whole different attitude and changed.
Google, which was founded on a patent, was like, oh, software? All software patents are horrible, except ours. When they make those announcements, they’re not making them from any deeply held belief, they’re making them from their economic viewpoint, which is important to understand. I think a lot of people don’t realize that.”
Where do you see media coverage of IP going? What does the future look like?
Quinn: “I don’t know. I had thought that when I was embarking upon IPWatchdog we would see more things like what I’m doing, where you have someone who really deeply understands the subject writing about that because doing news and collecting news is very costly for these big outlets….
I think we are going to continue to see the big outlets suffer and smaller outlets flourish, because the smaller outlets have the luxury of being able to focus…..
I think the nimble media is the future.”
Decker: “I’m looking at it more from the reporter’s perspective. I think that you’re still going to have fragmentation. The drug reporters will peek in and write about patents when it’s involving drugs. You’ll have the tech reporters peeking in. I think that they don’t quite understand that they miss the whole picture — the big picture of what’s going on. I think it’s much easier, if you’re only tapping into it from your particular industry, to kind of be swayed by the big companies or the activists’ positions on things, without seeing nuance that you get from seeing an overview.
There are very few news organizations that look at IP from a business perspective.”
Listen to the entire interview to learn:
- How the Blackberry case put patents on the map;
- How the Supreme Court’s decision in eBay v. MercExchange exemplifies that bad cases make bad law;
- The unique challenges that reporting on Section 101 issues and FRAND pose;
- Why and how attitudes about patents have changed over the past 20 years;
- And why the pro-IP community is losing the battle to win the public’s support and respect for IP.