IP protection is often overlooked as a driver of business growth. However, in the digital-first era, this has to change   

Over the past several years, the pandemic and changes in the world’s macro-environment have precipitated an era of the digital-first mindset to cater to new consumer needs and expectations on a global scale. 

While we see the benefits of online and digital services in rapidly transforming entire industries — benefits such as enhanced value creation and validation — this influx of content in the digital space brings with it an equally widening exposure to vulnerabilities such as counterfeiting-related activity, content piracy and plagiarism.

The impact of these potential risks and rewards is only further exacerbated by the ramping up of market activities leading to a resurgence in trade and consumer activity as economies return to some level of normalcy. 

These collective factors necessitate businesses to review the importance and protection of intellectual property (IP) worldwide, as they look into how they can increase the value of their innovations, products, and services through the means of copyrights, patents, trademarks and other intellectual property rights.

In Asia, this is particularly prominent, as it is leading as the largest origin of international patent applications, accounting for 54.1% of all applications in 2021, up from 38.5% in 2011.

Generating synergies with intellectual property

One key trend that has emerged across the economy at large is that IP is driving the commercialization and diversification of products and services.

While IP is not new to most industries, it is often far from the top-of-mind driver of business growth compared to more immediate contributors such as balance sheets, customer loyalty and operational efficiency. 

On the other hand, game and entertainment industries are known to leverage heavily on and arguably are almost entirely built on creative works and other intellectual property.

Notably, a distinct characteristic of IP is its pervasiveness and flexibility of scale when it comes to use cases, where it can protect elements as small as character design or UX/IX design, to entire technologies or infrastructures.

Neo Ling Yee, Senior Legal Counsel, Tencent

IP can also be further used to generate synergies across various products and mediums, thus creating new and incremental value. With this, increasing numbers of creators and businesses are using IP strategically in different areas to diversify commercialization channels, such as venturing into cross-collaborative activities. 

For example, some popular mobile games have inspired the creation of TV series and novels, and the development of cross-border partnerships involving hundreds of brands. Such evident advantages of IP mean that more cross-collaborations will continue to thrive in 2023.

Defending against counterfeiting and piracy 

The value of IP as a digital asset and its commercialization opportunities can only be ensured and safeguarded through IP enforcement, a crucial element for building a strong brand and the result of combined efforts at the legal, government and corporate levels.

    • On the legal front, IP regulations have recently been amended or created to adapt to the pervasiveness of digital ecosystems. For example, this year, new legislation in Singapore was enacted to enhance the IP dispute resolution system by making it more accessible to individuals and companies, particularly small- and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs).
    • On the private sector front, firms have also come together to launch the South-east Asia e-Commerce Anti-Counterfeiting (SeCA) Working Group. SeCA aims to address issues surrounding counterfeit trade and consumer protection in the online retail space. Specifically in 2022, Weixin (WeChat) — a founding platform of the group — strengthened the Brand Protection Platform (BPP) program to help members address counterfeiting and to make the program more effective. More public-private sector partnerships and memorandums of understanding are expected to continue this year, alongside efforts to boost public awareness of counterfeits and IP.
    • Meanwhile, governments in the region are acknowledging brand enforcement as a priority, establishing partnerships with other agencies and corporations to safeguard consumer and SMEs’ interests. Notably in 2022, Thailand’s commerce ministry signed a memorandum of understanding with major e-commerce platforms to intensify efforts towards preventing the online sales of pirated goods, as well as to share knowledge on IP rights protections with online merchants.

Nurturing an IP-savvy workforce 

As IP and brand protection grow in importance, a workforce with the necessary IP skills and knowledge will become increasingly indispensable to help organizations take full advantage of IP benefits and navigate a contemporary business landscape.

For example, in Singapore, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore has partnered with the Singapore Business Federation to launch the “Workforce for IP-Savvy Enterprises” (Wise) initiative to help firms to build human resources capabilities to hire, nurture and optimize IP talent.

This suggests an awareness that personnel with the relevant expertise is needed in this day and age, and that such efforts will require the collaboration of the public and private sectors to ensure effectiveness and continuity.  

With the extensive volume of online content present today, businesses will also need to take into consideration potential infringing counterfeit sales taking place on their platforms.

In 2022, some 160,000 Weixin channels and videos, 15,000 infringing livestreams, and 11,500 channels accounts were deemed to be hosting IP infringing livestreams and subsequently shut down or penalized. As livestreaming content continues to emerge as a key opportunity for businesses to market their products and services, IP owners need to be committed to protecting users and businesses alike against counterfeit or piracy activities. 

As such, organizations should expect to ramp up efforts to nurture an IP-savvy workforce. This will improve corporate avoidance of reputational risks, various legal complications and potential financial impact if IP violations are carried out by or against the organization.

Moving forward, businesses are set to collectively leverage IP for commercialization, brand protection and an IP-savvy workforce in order to fully reap the benefits of intellectual innovation.

By doing so, organizations will be honoring the value of the creative industry and its players, and also successfully navigating the digital world with minimal risk — ultimately co-creating a vibrant global digital economy together.