Earlier this year a group of senior IP figures, led by Bruce Berman, launched the Center for IP Understanding (CIPU), a non-profit organisation focused on increasing awareness of the impact of IP on society. Later this year CIPU, together with Chicago-Kent College of Law, will hold the first IP Awareness Summit which will address the role of IP understanding in innovation, ideas and value creation.

In this guest post IBM’s chief patent counsel and CIPU board member Manny Schecter explains why all IP stakeholders should throw their support behind efforts to improve the public’s understanding of IP.

The common public perception of intellectual property (including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets) is an inventor sitting outside a patent attorney’s office with a gadget in his lap. Or it’s a TV commercial urging the viewer to buy a home, medical or personal hygiene product because it has the imprimatur of a patent. Or the public may view IP through the lens of a big lawsuit in which one company sues another based on its IP.

The what, why, when and how of IP, however, are largely a mystery to most people. But as it becomes increasingly important as the fuel of economic growth, especially in emerging technologies, and becomes a larger portion of corporate assets, the need for us all to learn and understand IP rights increases.

IP is a complex topic involving intangible property, unique laws and a close intersection with technology – which, in the past, confined its audience. Also, until recently IP disputes and related matters rarely surfaced in the press or social media. Even for those few that are well-versed in the subject, IP issues normally cannot be captured in a sound bite and do not make for riveting dinner table conversation. The challenge of educating a diverse public combined with the marginal interest IP triggered in the past made it easy to overlook the importance of IP education.

In recent years the importance of IP has been recognised, in promoting innovation that benefits mankind, in fuelling economic growth and in favourably impacting global competition and jobs. Accordingly, in today’s competitive world improved awareness and understanding of IP is imperative.

I recently wrote about the growing need for more deliberate IP education in the US. I was pleased by the very positive feedback I received, and by subsequent articles publicising IP educational activities and tools of others (you can see one from the USPTO here and another, which was published in The Hill, here). Unfortunately, the existing courses and activities are just a patchwork that reach a mere sliver of our population.

A more organised effort should expand IP consciousness in an appealing way to a wider audience, keying in on fundamentals. Who needs to know what about IP and when? What should we be teaching about IP in grade schools, on undergraduate programmes and at business schools? What should companies be teaching their employees about IP, and which ones? How do we ensure Congress’ understanding of IP is current so that it can set appropriate policy to maintain US competitiveness? How do we optimise the benefits we achieve from IP?