Cheers to World IP Day!

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By William Honaker

Today, April 26, is World IP?Day, an annual celebration of intellectual property rights and their role in encouraging innovation.

It’s a day that even many intellectual property attorneys aren’t aware of, but every year on April 26, the occasion of World Intellectual Property Day is celebrated. Sponsored by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the day is intended to educate the public on the role that intellectual property (IP) rights play in encouraging innovation and creativity. With a different focus each year, World IP Day 2021 looks at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) around the globe that drive business development, economic development and recovery, and human progress by bringing a product to market. 

Writing this column well over a year into the pandemic, I need not look very far to cite examples of innovation and creativity. A striking example is how pharmaceutical companies, known for vast IP portfolios, immediately got to work for the greater good to bring multiple COVID-19 vaccines promptly to market. Interestingly, it was both Big Pharma and emerging pharma companies working collaboratively, a nod to the importance of companies of all sizes striving for innovation.

I talked to many business leaders as pandemic restrictions took effect, but instead of hearing defeat, I heard them talk of taking action. They were focused on helping the situation, protecting their employees, and creating solutions to address new challenges presented by the pandemic. It’s that spirit that we celebrate on World IP Day 2021.

Indeed, the pandemic’s devastation and pending sense of doom in March 2020 was the springboard for innovation by companies of all sizes. Small to medium-sized enterprises in particular stepped up to the plate when they repurposed an existing innovation for use in a socially distanced, work-from-home world, or created something entirely new to fulfill an emerging or anticipated need.

A favorite story of innovation over the past year involves a client in the respirator industry. Although the company had been dipping its toe into healthcare, their primary products were industrial respirators used in the construction field. When the pandemic hit, the company redesigned an industrial respirator to be smaller, quieter and with a longer battery life so it could be effectively used in the healthcare industry. Their teams across the U.S. and as far away as New Zealand collaborated virtually to develop the new respirator product in record time, exceeding the company’s initial expectations. The development resulted in numerous IP filings, which have now added significant value to the company.

This is just one example of how small to medium-sized enterprises are pivoting during the pandemic to alter existing products or create new products that in the long-run will positively impact the trajectory of their business moving forward. Others just happened to be in the right market at the right time. Another client in the consumer woodworking business, with revenues under $10 million, stated he was busier than ever — which is not surprising given the rush to renovate homes during stay-at-home orders and, subsequently, the reality that working from home is likely to become a mainstay of corporate life.  

Intellectual property has never been more valuable to a business and the pandemic should spur business owners to identify, collect and protect their intellectual property. I’ve had several small to medium-sized enterprise clients over the past year who are in discussions with investors over a potential purchase of their business. Among the questions these inventors ask early on is, “What’s the status of your IP portfolio?”
Needless to say, including IP assets as part of a sale can increase the value of the deal significantly.

The tools of the IP world include trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets, and design rights. Individually and collectively, they allow individual inventors, SMEs or multi-national corporations to transform an idea into a viable business opportunity, create jobs, generate value and enhance the number and type of products available to consumers. Further, according to information noted by the WIPO, companies that protect their intellectual property are financially stronger than those who do not. 

Regardless of size, companies who protect the value of their intellectual property tend to be companies that nurture, cultivate and inspire innovation. In my experience, these are dynamic work environments that can’t help but excite their team members about what’s coming next. In that spirit, they continue to push forward for further innovation and new business opportunities.

IP isn’t just about business though, savvy artists, songwriters, performers and writers also protect their intellectual property. For creators of all types, World IP Day is a reminder of their value in the marketplace and to society.

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William Honaker is a member partner in the Troy office of Dickinson Wright. With more than 35 years of experience as an intellectual property attorney, he helps businesses protect their brands, inventions, and copyrights. 


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