One thing that does work to promote innovation

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When promoting innovation, development of a strong IP ecosystem, is crucial to ensure the development of intellectual assets in good times and bad.

(Photo credit: Horia Varlan via

The world is awash with talk about and investment in ‘innovation’ and ‘entrepreneurship’, particularly in up and coming technological areas such as FinTech and the Internet of Everything.

However, we lack a reliable and proven model for the process of innovation and creation. There is one thing, however, we know works to promote innovation and implementing it is within our reach.

Genius takes time – and protection

Many people mistakenly assume that creation and innovation result from a smooth linear process – but often the process is anything but so. Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink, more) examines how great works are created, devoting considerable analysis to the late Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The song itself is hailed as a preeminent example of modern songwriting. Buts its rise to fame and deserved recognition as a masterpiece did not follow a straightforward path.

Gladwell believes that there are two types of creative geniuses. The first belong to a group he termed as ‘conceptual innovators’ who produce their masterpieces in quick bursts of confident and superhuman giftedness, and ‘experimental innovators’ who spend years tinkering with, dismantling and rebuilding their own works. He puts Picasso, Herman Melville, and Bob Dylan into the former category, and Paul Cézanne and Cohen in the latter [1].

Cohen worked on Hallelujah for five years. His first version of the song, released in 1984, was, by some accounts, awful. Through a series of circumstances, Jeff Buckley heard and subsequently recorded the song but even then it was not widely noticed until Buckley drowned in 1997. Others continued to remake it in their own fashion, expanding its audience of fans and its reach into popular culture.

Rethinking the linear path of creation, innovation and commercialisation

In 1937, Chester Carlson invented xerography, which he patented in 1939. It still took him almost eight years to find an investor willing to invest in the invention. It was not until 1950 that the Haloid company (which later became the Xerox Corporation) successfully made the invention commercially available.

Given the time and unpredictability of the creation, innovation and commercialisation of products, we must not only encourage but also protect creators, innovators and entrepreneurs, their collaborators, and investors. This group of people, the collaborative innovation ecosystem, needs the protection IP laws provide to earn recognition and income from their work.

Stable rights, fair returns

A stable set of rights protecting invention for a limited – but not too limited – period of time allows inventors to earn a living from their work. This is what the IP system is all about.

A proper IP system is designed to foster and reward creativity and innovation while also serving the public good. Creating stable property rights that not only provides protection for creators and innovators, but also investors who want to ensure they can earn a fair return on their investments in bringing new innovations to market.

IP rights provide the rights bearer with several opportunities, which can facilitate the successful completion of an innovation. These opportunities include the sale and licensing of IP and the establishment of strategic business partnerships or alliances aimed at commercializing the asset IP. This includes joint ventures, something SMEs rich with IP assets, yet financially constrained, may strategically useful [4]. IP ownership plays an important role in influencing the decisions of external partners as to whether to support the development of protected assets, especially during times of financial duress.

IP must be part of any innovation/creation policy and programme

IP protections thus provides benefits to all creators, inventors and entrepreneurs, whether conceptual innovators or experimental innovators.

If Hong Kong’s policymakers want to implement effective policies or programs that actually encourage innovation and creation, they need to include IP – rights, protections and education – as an essential part of their plan. The government must provide stable intellectual property rights to protect innovators’ and creators’ future revenue streams from as of yet underdeveloped IP. Investors need the certainty of IP protection if they are expected to provide the financing needed to realize the commercial potential of the property in question.



[2] As he noted in a speech at the 2014 APAC Innovation Summit

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[starbox desc=”Ronald Yu

Ronald Yu is a board member of the International IP Commercialization Council, a cross-industry IP commercialization non-profit organisation. The IIPCC Hong Kong Chapter was launched in June 2015.”]