Of Mice and Men – Intellectual Property Rights in the Year 2025



Berthold RutzShirin Elahi As a parting gift so to speak Professor Alain Pompidou, president of the European Patent Office EPO until June 2007, initiated in 2004 an ambitious project focussing on two central questions: «How might IP regimes evolve in 2025?» and «What global legitimacy might such regimes have?» Shortly before stepping down as head of EPO  Pompidou presented the «Scenarios of the Future», celebrating also the 30 years since the inauguration of the European Patent Office.

The research is mainly based on over a hundred formal interviews which were conducted with leading experts from across the world. The European Futurists Conference Lucerne is proud to have Dr. Berthold Rutz and Shirin Elahi of the European Patent Office as speakers on November 20. They will present their view of «How Intellectual Property Regimes Might Evolve by 2025».

The following paragraphs are taken from the executive summary of the «EPO Scenarios of the Future» which can be found at www.epo.org/focus/patent-system/scenarios-for-the-future.html.

What is shaping the future?

There are many pressures impacting on the patent system – political, economic, societal, environmental, technological and historical – over which its guardians and stakeholders have little or no control. During the course of this project, we identified the five most important driving forces that will create the greatest uncertainty; causing the system to become increasingly complex and unpredictable:


Traditionally, power has been concentrated in the hands of established authority. However, globalisation has redefined this power structure, with established sources of authority – such as governments – challenged by the many new powerful actors that are forming alliances and cutting across traditional boundaries. New players include multinational corporations (MNCs); civil society organisations (CSOs) and global networks of political and special interest movements; international bodies; emerging economies and regional trade blocs; as well as other players, such as private equity investors. The key question that emerges is: As new and powerful players emerge, who has power and authority?

Globalisation has integrated national economic systems through international trade, investment and capital flows as well as increased social, cultural and technological interaction. It has accelerated the pace of change, creating economies of scale which has led to an economic, social and political competitive flattening of the world between a multiplicity of players that include countries, regions, hotspots and city states, market sectors, global companies, organisational and business models, consumer markets and workforces, business and universities as well as cultures. In this global jungle, there are many who are ill-equipped to adapt. Protectionist measures – such as increased tariffs or trade restrictions – carry risks. The key question we ask is: As the rules of the global jungle take shape, who will survive? And for how long?

There is a growing tension between, on the one hand, the pace of global economic markets, the rate of change in technology and short-term political cycles; and, on the other, the long-term cycles of political and legal institutions such as the IP system, as well as human psychology and the environment. The pace of change in the more visible areas makes it difficult to address certain slow variables such as environmental degradation or climate change. The growing divide between the short and long-term goals leads us to ask: How do humans and their institutions adjust to cope with the rate of change?


International flows of finance, people, goods and ideas have created unprecedented global interdependence. There are also major risks created by our dependency on the complex natural and man-made systems that support humanity. The nature of these risks is changing from traditional ones (such as natural hazards) to complex systemic risks. These have been created by the many stresses and uncertainties that together could threaten the integrity of interconnected systems, whether they’re economic, social or environmental. Increased population pressures have also given rise to a number of regional, ethnic and cultural conflicts, the rise of worldwide terrorism and, last but not least, the increasing impact of environmental problems. This leads us to ask the question: As global society becomes increasingly reliant on complex interconnected systems, where are the tipping points that threaten them?


The very nature and availability of knowledge is changing. Society increasingly questions the monopoly ownership conferred by patents. At the same time, the speed of technological obsolescence and the clogged IP system make it harder to derive value from traditional patent usage. And technology now makes information more accessible and counterfeiting simpler, eroding the control a patent holder once exerted. Heavy-handed IPR enforcement is also likely to alienate the public. The transformation of data into information and then into knowledge – information that can be utilised to build capabilities – is also far from straightforward. This raises the question: As information becomes increasingly abundant, what knowledge has value?

Complex issues of knowledge access, search, management, production and ownership force us to question the equation: “more information equals more knowledge” and then to ask: Are there cheaper, quicker methods of protecting and exploiting knowledge than the patent system?

EPO Scenarios for the Future

This dynamic, unpredictable world has no precedent. The blurred boundaries are creating a Kaleidoscope Society: fragmented yet interconnected, with dramatic demographic shifts taking place. Within the context of such complexity and upheaval, the ability to reflexively navigate and adapt will be critical. From this standpoint in 2007, the world of patenting and IP could evolve in several directions. We have investigated four of them, depending on how the chosen driving forces play out. These then are our scenarios for the future:

Market Rules - a world where business is the dominant driver.
It’s a story of the consolidation of a system so successful that it is collapsing under its own weight. New forms of subject matter – inevitably including further types of services – become patentable and more players enter the system. The balance of power is held by multinational corporations with the resources to build powerful patent portfolios, enforce their rights in an increasingly litigious world and drive the patent agenda. A key goal is the growth of shareholder value. Patents are widely used as a financial tool to achieve that end. In the face of ever-increasing volumes of patent applications, various forms of rationalisation of the system occur and it moves to mutual recognition of harmonised patent rights. The market decides the fate of the system, with minor regulation of visible excesses. Patent trolling, anti-competitive behaviour and standards issues all come under scrutiny.

Whose Game? - a world where geopolitics is the dominant driver.
This is the story of a boomerang effect which strikes today’s dominant players in the patent world as a result of changing geopolitical balances and competing ambitions. The developed world increasingly fails to use IP to maintain technological superiority; new entrants try to catch up so they can improve their citizens’ living standards. But many developing world countries are excluded from the process, and work instead within a ‘communal knowledge’ paradigm. Nations and cultures compete, IP has become a powerful weapon in this battle. The new entrants become increasingly successful at shaping the evolution of the system, using it to establish economic advantage, adapting the existing rules as their geopolitical infl uence grows. Enforcement becomes increasingly difficult and the IP world becomes more fragmented. Attempts are made to address the issues of development and technology transfer.

Trees of Knowledge - a world where society is the dominant driver.
In this story, diminishing societal trust and growing criticism of the IP system result in its gradual erosion. The key players are popular movements – often coalitions of civil society, businesses, concerned governments and individuals – seeking to challenge existing norms. This Kaleidoscope Society is fragmented yet united – issue by issue, crisis by crisis – against real and perceived threats to human needs: access to health, knowledge, food and entertainment. Multiple voices and multiple world views feed popular attention and interest, with the media playing an active role in encouraging debate. This loose ‘knowledge movement’ echoes the environmental movement of the 1980s, initially sparked by small, established special interest groups but slowly gaining momentum and raising wider awareness through alliances such as the A2K (Access to Knowledge) movement. The main issue is how to ensure that knowledge remains a common good, while acknowledging the legitimacy of reward for innovation.

Blue Skies - a world where technology is the dominant driver. The final story revolves around a split in the patent system. Societal reliance on technology and growing systemic risks force this change; the key players are technocrats and politicians responding to global crises. Complex new technologies based on a highly cumulative innovation process are seen as the key to solving systemic problems such as climate change, and diffusion of technology in these fields is of paramount importance. The IP needs of these new technologies come increasingly into conflict with the needs of classic, discrete technologies. In the end, the patent system responds to the speed, interdisciplinarity and complex nature of the new technologies by abandoning the one-size-fits-all model: the former patent regime still applies to classic technologies while the new ones use other forms of IP protection, such as the licence of rights. The patent system increasingly relies on technology, and new forms of knowledge search and classifi cation emerge.

Looking ahead

The purpose of scenarios is to examine possible uncertainties that might arise in a complex and turbulent environment. By deploying this methodology, a wider view can be taken and more relevant questions can be asked. This approach encourages a holistic examination of the system and exposes the complex interactions that might impact it. By thinking the unthinkable, and questioning structures that are ordinarily taken as a given, it is possible to better anticipate and adapt to future changes.
From these deliberations, we have developed a set of four distinct, yet interdependent scenario worlds, each with its own divergent future. Traditionally, the world of patents has been viewed through the familiar lens of the grey Market Rules scenario. However, the scenario process demonstrates that it is unwise not to take a much wider perspective into account: the other three scenarios reveal further dimensions often overlooked by the IP system.
The patent system, which evolved over centuries to support an industrialised world, now has to adjust to meet the needs of tomorrow’s post-industrial era. Globalisation accelerates global competition, which in turn encourages more innovation as new products are marketed and sold worldwide; this also leads to more exchanges of ideas and technology. A challenge will be to harmonise ways to deal with the growing number of such exchanges, the world of Market Rules.
The system must also accommodate the multiple players and stakeholders from different cultures and with different worldviews and aspirations who are working towards different goals within a global environment. The challenge here will be to find a way of meeting the specific developmental requirements of disparate nations at global level, because a system that blocks the access of poor people to essential drugs or food will eventually lose its credibility. This is the world of Whose Game?
Civil society is increasingly engaged in the IP debate, and this interest is likely to significantly shape the agenda of the ‘commons’ debate. As questions around the public benefits of IP gain traction, we enter the world of Trees of Knowledge.
The subject-matter protected by the patent system is changing, too. Technologies become increasingly fast, interdisciplinary and cumulative, increasing the tensions on the patent system and leading us to Blue Skies.

Asking the right questions

We developed these scenarios in order to understand the landscape in which the patent system functions. But looking at possible futures is not enough. It would be irresponsible not to consider how the system needs to adapt and what role we can play to ensure that it remains fit-for-purpose. There are many voices questioning its current suitability. As interested parties, we cannot afford to ignore these messages, nor should we stand by idly without communicating the underlying benefits of the system.
The patent system is far too complex, and the issues far too diverse for any single group of stakeholders to decide its future. These scenarios are not intended to prescribe solutions, but aim to provide the right questions for input into the policymaking process. Our hope is that the wide-ranging perspectives contained within this compendium will go some way to encourage reflection and increase the understanding of a system where issues are not simple but complex, and interlinked by a vast array of forces. We hope that this exercise will support and stimulate a broad and informed debate – one that appears to have commenced already in many quarters, among many people around the world.
At the core is the growing importance of knowledge, and the question is how best to adapt to the fundamental changes in the way in which knowledge is being produced and used within the global society. That question is one we at the EPO have tried to explore with our EPO Scenarios for the Future project – and the answer lies in all our hands 

A word of warning: the views contained in these scenarios do not represent in any form those of the EPO. They are, like all good scenarios, designed as a set of challenging, relevant and plausible stories of possible futures.

Dr. Berthold Rutz and Shirin Elahi, European Patent Office
«How Intellectual Property Regimes Might Evolve by 2025»

Culture and Convention Centre KKL, Lucerne, Switzerland

November 20, 2007; 10.00 h


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