The acceleration of technology has revolutionised the manufacturing sector and given the growing competitive environment a new perspective. Technological advancements have expanded intellectual property ? particularly patents, trademarks and copyrights ?  and complicated the management of existing IP assets, which must be adapted to suit the changing sector and its IP wars. A systematic approach is required to strengthen the value system to withhold IP assets and to meet the changing market dynamics of IP ecosystems. Major reforms in the existing framework are required to suit future businesses and create effective strategies for enhanced IP management.

Since manufacturing will inevitably change, so too will the IP ecosystem that supports it. As the manufacturing sector consists of highly diverse innovative companies and many sub-sectors, changes in market forces and technical advances make it mandatory to stay abreast of developments and adjust sector operations to mitigate any risks and challenges. Foundations for the future must be robust and supported by the right protections.

Prominent changes that will drive the manufacturing sector include:

  • research and development;
  • innovation; and
  • process efficiencies.

A smooth transition through these changes will require proper patent and design right protection, which must maintain a competitive edge. As the process of registering these protections in various jurisdictions lacks harmony, a streamlined approach will be an absolute necessity. The protection of knowledge transfer from individuals that would drive these changes should also be considered, and appropriate contractual provisions should be kept in place to avoid misuse of intellectual output.

Appropriate protections should be considered for business-critical information to mitigate risks of theft, loss or leaks from employees and third parties through open innovation channels. Remote working, use of mobile devices and ease of information exchange should be curtailed through clear and contractual provisions by tightly drafting and monitoring licences and contracts with third parties wherever required.

An ongoing threat for manufacturers is the growing number of counterfeit goods and the ease with which these goods percolate into business streams. The rise of additive manufacturing and three-dimensional (3D) printing will make it even harder for manufacturers to identify counterfeits.

To safeguard reputation and avoid brand deterioration, manufacturers should focus on the following key areas to achieve sustainable and resilient growth:

  • IP application timelines ? technological developments have increased the number of patents and trademarks, which in turn have created overheads in patent offices and obstructed the smooth handling of prosecution work. It is becoming increasingly difficult for manufacturers to manage deadlines, pay IP fees and maintain their renewals. There is a need for a centralised public database to ensure efficient proceedings and to avoid interruption.
  • IP enforcement and litigation strategy ? a thorough assessment is required to analyse the market usability and validity of technology. Market usability comprises an assessment of patent enforcement in various jurisdictions. A streamlined approach for identifying products to be targeted in different markets is also required. Ascertaining the validity of technology should be comprehensive to avoid inadvertent gaps.

Technologies such as 3D printing might require an amalgamation of various policies for IP protection. As a single variant might not fulfil the criteria for protection of the technology, other means of protection are required. Everyone associated with these technologies, including inventors, corporates and independent consultants, must work on a tactical approach to overcome any unforeseen challenges.

The competitive spirit of the modern technological era has created a need for enhanced IP strategies. The manufacturing sector is already changing, and a strategic evaluation by inventors and IP attorneys will play a pivotal role in identifying and avoiding IP protection risks. Original equipment manufacturers must design IP-specific strategies to protect their technology.

This article first appeared in IAM. For further information please visit www.iam-media.com.