drivinginnovation.jpgComing off a recent discussion about the role patents play in fostering innovation (see: Are Patents A Driver of Innovation or Just a Tax?), it is fortunate that I’ve had a chance to read Michael Gollin’s excellent book on how intellectual property not only drives the innovation cycle but sometimes stifles it, too.

Gollin’s book, entitled “Driving Innovation: Intellectual Property Strategies for a Dynamic World,” Cambridge University Press, covers fundamental IP concepts and practical strategies that apply to all innovation organizations, including industry, nonprofit institutions, and developing countries.  Yes, even countries.  Innovation is the very engine that propels every nation towards more development and participation requires a global perspective on how the IP system balances access to innovations, how it changes over time, and how it encourages and sometimes stifles innovation.

Gollin points out that in the knowledge economy, globalization, innovation and political leadership are the main driving forces in society.  Unfortunately, the tightening interdependence of markets, technology and culture also drive a growing disparity between global haves and have-nots.

The duality of intellectual property is that it is a source of wealth and a source of an accompanying cost.  That is, IP brings wealth only with some concomitant toll (a sort of hidden tax), whether on competitors or consumers, even if it is only a small part of the wealth pie generated.

So it is with IP rights, they inherently set up a tension between the pharmaceutical company enforcing rights and the patients wanting greater (read: less costly) access to medicine.  A technology company wants to build and market a product but is forced to pay licensing fees to a patent holder.

In the end, this book is not about what the IP should be or how it could be changed but is about how to survive in a global system when IP rights have developed. This book is written as a very practical guide for a broad audience of anyone interested in innovation and how IP encourages (or discourages) the cycle of development.  As Gollin puts it:

Creative individuals build on past knowledge, then share and develop their creative work with others in their community, until the innovative result of the collective effort can be adopted by larger society, thus enriching the pool of available knowledge for further creative effort.

Driving this cycle is an IP system that provides incentives to create, defines exclusive rights so that developments can be controlled and offers the means for dissipation to society.  Gollin now provides a smart and understandable guide to the law and business of patents.

Driving Innovation is one of the best books around for weaving the reader through the history of intellectual property and the inherent tension between exclusion and access, private rights and public domain, monopoly and competition.  Balancing these conflicting roles affects individuals and nations alike.  We highly recommend this guide to anyone who has to work in the knowledge age.

Driving Innovation: Intellectual Property Strategies for a Dynamic World,” by Michael A. Gollin, is available from Amazon.  Michael A. Gollin is a law partner at Venable LLP in Washington, DC, and a faculty member at the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business.

Note:  Proceeds from book sales will be shared with the Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors (PIIPA), an international non-profit organization that makes intellectual property counsel available for developing countries and public interest organizations who seek to promote health, agriculture, biodiversity, science, culture, and the environment.

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  1. This is an interesting topic, but as with a previous book you reviewed there seem to be some naive assumptions underlying the anti-patent argument. This is particularly apparent with respect to pharmaceuticals, wherein a product must undergo many years of incredibly expensive testing before it can even have a chance of reaching the market. No one is likely to assume that risk without a reasonable expectation of market exclusivity for a reasonable period of time after marketing approval is finally obtained. Try starting a biotech company based on a lead drug with no patent protection, and see how much funding you attract.

  2. Robin,

    I did not intend to infer that Gollin’s book is anti-patent. I find that it merely weaves together the story of how patents drive innovation, economies and even countries’ destinies. The effects of patents are what they are.

    Gollin’s book is really terrific guide and very useful for managers in whatever technology area. My short review doesn’t really capture all of the useful areas of the book. It provides quite a bit of guidance for strategic management of IP and how to go about figuring out a course of action. Is something high value or low value. Should it have high protection or low protection?

    This book assumes that patent protection is crucial for success. And so is its management.

    I hope that helps,


  3. I posted a comment on this here.

    As I noted there, it’s strange that you just assume that the costs of IP are “equal and opposite” to its benefits. First, they can never be equal, due to the subjective, ordinal, and interpersonally incomparable nature of value (see: Austrian economics). Second, even if they can be compared, there’s no reason to think that they are equal–one is likely to be greater than the other–in fact, all evidence indicates the costs are greater than the purported benefits (some indicate that even the putative benefits are a cost, in addition to the obvious costs).

    Third, even if you assume they are equal–then why have an IP system? I mean why even bother, if it all balances out? (See my There’s No Such Thing as a Free Patent; What are the Costs of the Patent System?)

    And even though there is finally, at least, an acknowledgment that the IP system has costs that might offset or even exceed the purported benefits, is there any desire to probe into whether IP is legitimate or should exist? No, explicitly not: “This book is not about what the IP should be or how it could be changed but is about how to survive in a global system when IP rights have developed.”

  4. Stephan,

    I appreciate your comments. You are correct, I used very imprecise language and did not mean “equal and opposite.” I have corrected the article to clarify.

    Although I disagree with your assumptions “that 75% of patent-stimulated innovation would have happened eventually, within 10 years of when it did occur,” I agree there is always a concomitant cost associated with wealth generation, no matter the size of the wealth pie created.

    As I mentioned above, this book is about IP management and not IP policy debate. For its intended purpose, I think you’ll find this a very good guide for strategic IP management.


  5. Stephen,

    “I disagree with your assumptions “that 75% of patent-stimulated innovation would have happened eventually, within 10 years of when it did occur,””

    Stephen, this was just an assumption, arguendo. But curious, why do you disagree with it? What are the right numbers?

  6. Stephan,

    This was just an assumption. But, while I agree that some portion of patent-stimulated innovation would have happened eventually, I find the percentages incredible.

    Admittedly, I’m basing this on the anecdotal evidence of my client base. In general, I find that our start-up company clients in the biotech, pharma, chemical and med device areas cannot get funded without patent exclusivity.

    My experience is that patent protection is second only to the management team for VCs. I have worked with a number of clients who fizzled for lack of patent protection.

    I’m not sure how real numbers could be determined but they’d be very interesting to see.


  7. Stephen,

    Okay, it was just an assumption on your part. It seems to me this is rampant in the IP practitioner world: they repeat the line that IP generates more wealth than it costs, with no evidence.. just their assumptions.

    Even if you are right that in a system with patents, you need to have patents to get VC funding and to succeed, this does not show that the patent system generates more wealth than it costs. It just means that if that is the system, you have to work within those rules to prosper.

    Or so it seems to me.

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