Making IP a force-enabler for solving big problems

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The world continues to confront compounding health, economic and humanitarian crises. We face urgent challenges like carbon in our atmosphere and declining growth of the working age population in developed countries. Microsoft believes that technology – particularly artificial intelligence (AI) – has great potential to help address these problems. The ability to uncover new insights in large datasets will drive new advances in climate science and improve workforce productivity. But success requires more innovation in more fields in less time than any other technological era in human history. And this innovation will be distributed. No one person or company will invent all of the advances in technology necessary to solve these complex problems. It will take collaboration and the fostering of community.

To address these challenges, we need an IP system that promotes pragmatic and practical mechanisms with a focus on how the system can enable innovation, not impede it.

Last week, I shared these reflections at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., at an event hosted by the Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC), called IP: Enabling Ecosystem Collaboration. There, I suggested five principles for the IP community to consider when drafting legislation and developing ways to make IP a force-enabler for solving big problems:

IP Principles for the Future of Innovation

  1. Focus: Intellectual property is a means to solving important problems, not an end in and of itself.
  2. Collaboration: Community, broad-based, global collaboration should be enabled by intellectual property.
  3. Balance: Economic return to inventors and creators is important, but it should go hand-in-hand with enabling broad use of technology at scale.
  4. Adaptability: Exceptions and sharing/licensing of intellectual property can enable innovation.
  5. Transparency: Information is essential to an effective intellectual property system.

The biggest societal challenges will not be solved by IP, but IP can play a critical role in removing friction to innovation. Throughout history, IP has enabled innovation through both protections and exceptions, and when it comes to AI development, exceptions like fair use and those for text and data mining in regions such as Europe allow AI and machine learning to help humans observe and learn about their world. As a result, we can develop AI models that are better at understanding and addressing societal challenges.

AI-related technologies will open up innovation to whole new groups of people. With it will come questions and concerns about the effect of these new technologies on existing segments, rights and communities. Collaboration and engagement across different stakeholders and communities will be critical to understanding and addressing those concerns, while preserving the opportunity that these innovations will unlock. Putting AI to work will require access to data and collaboration around data. We would love to see an open data revolution in the next 10 years, just as we’ve seen an open source revolution in the past 20 years.

I suggested some ideas the IP community can consider in evolving our IP systems to enable faster progress towards a better future:

  1. Adopt new licensing mechanisms to enable widespread and friction-free use of technology to solve important problems and help inventors obtain economic benefit for their IP. For example, there should be a rate court that establishes license fees for standards-essential patents that would eliminate the ambiguity and uncertainty around licensing such technologies.
  2. Promote exceptions to IP that improve knowledge-sharing, collaboration and development of new technologies like machine learning, such as the text and data mining exceptions adopted in Europe and Japan.
  3. Improve transparency and information flow about IP, including improving patent quality, standardizing licensing models, promoting multiparty cross-licensing, and making economic terms of licenses transparent to everyone in the innovation ecosystem.
  4. Provide economic incentives for collaboration, rewarding those who make their patents freely available for use to address important social problems. We need to promote widespread and friction-free use of technology to take on these important challenges.

At Microsoft, we continue to learn about what innovators need from us as a company and how we can deliver on our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. I hope the IP community can adopt and build on these principles to enable collaboration and nurture the AI capabilities that are so essential for innovation today. By doing so, we will be better able to tackle the critical issues our world faces today and tomorrow.

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