is Vice-Chairman of the Center for Intellectual Property Understanding, a non-profit dedicated to increasing IP awareness and improving attitudes. Phelps is a seminal figure in IP history, having established IP as a business unit at IBM in the 1980s, and helping to generate some $2 billion in annual patent and IP revenues. Recruited in 2003 by Bill Gates to build Microsoft’s IP department, he took the company from a handful of licenses to over 600 when he left in 2010 and helped to build one of the most productive patent portfolios in technology. Phelps, who co-founded Intellectual Ventures, was elected in 2006 to the initial class of the IP Hall of Fame. Named one of the “World’s Top 300 Intellectual Property Strategists” by IAM Magazine, Mr. Phelps also writes a regular monthly column for Forbes on the challenges business leaders face in developing and implementing innovation-driven growth strategies.
Today, most Americans don’t realize how vital the patent system is to their standard of living. But the founding fathers certainly did. That’s why they very consciously set out to construct the world’s first DEMOCRATIZED patent system that would do what no other patent system in the world had done before; stimulate the inventive genius of the common man… I would call for patience, because I believe history has shown that the system self-corrects and will likely do so again. But in our zeal for the perfect system, remember, the perfect is the enemy of the good. So be careful what you wish for.
IP rights are often viewed as barriers, not assets. No wonder respect for IP is at an all-time low, and pilfering of IP rights is widely acceptable. Our culture seems to be saying: “It’s ok to shoplift intangibles, if it’s not too obvious.” But buying fake goods, copying content, or appropriating someone’s trade secrets are not victimless crimes. They have a dramatic economic impact.
I did not start out to be an inventor,” writes the billionaire inventor and spinal surgeon Gary K. Michelson in the preface to a newly-published book entitled The Intangible Advantage: Understanding Intellectual Property in the New Economy. “I wanted to be a doctor,” he explained. “That’s all I ever wanted to be, ever since the day I sat at my grandmother’s kitchen table — I must have been seven years old — and smelled her flesh burning on the stove. You see, my grandmother suffered from syringomyelia, a crippling spinal disease that results in terrible back pain and the loss of sensation to pain and temperature in the extremities, especially the hands. When I saw the flames licking up through her fingers that day, I screamed, and she quickly doused her hand in the sink.