U.N. backing, Prof. James Conley brings intellectual property
education to the developing world
leaders are learning a whole new set of rules to safeguard
their intellectual property in the digital age, says Technology
Conley. But it's important that they not get carried away.
system is out of balance," says Conley, who also teaches at
Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering. "The first
impression young consumers, like my children, get of law enforcement
is on a DVD." He's referring to the familiar FBI warning that
has appeared on digital media since 2004 and videotapes since
the birth of the movie rental industry — the one that
threatens would-be pirates with fines up to $250,000 and prison
sentences of up to five years.
Conley thinks the warning
is a bit hyperbolic. Two-hundred-fifty thousand dollars for
copying a DVD? he asks. "But what happens when you steal a
to Conley, much of the controversy surrounding intellectual
property is rooted in sensational spin. "It's up to the technology
companies to make the case that puts intellectual property
in the appropriate perspective," he says. And he is prepared
to help. Since 2006, he's been working with the United Nations'
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to develop
online training programs for executives in developed and developing
nations. In the coming year, he'll travel to Switzerland and
throughout Europe to foster program growth.
Executive Director Anil Sinha says the organization enlisted
Conley, a faculty member of the Kellogg School's Center for
Research in Technology and Innovation, to help develop in-depth
courses for senior managers. "He has played a major role in
bringing WIPO and Kellogg together," Sinha says.
says the WIPO programs will teach business leaders about their
legal rights, but more importantly, will help show them how
to use their intellectual property to realize competitive
advantage. With WIPO, Conley says he hopes to "build content
that makes this a management issue and not just a legal issue.
property is a contemporary form of the classical notion of
property," he says. While previous generations of leaders
learned "management systems governing stock and flows of tangible
goods or physical property," Conley says 80 percent of what
people pay for in 2008 is intangible — a brand, an idea,
an experience, a few gigabytes of information transmitted
via the Internet. "The safest way to secure that is through
"The national economies
of the world are moving toward a single, global market," says
Conley, and there is a high correlation between a nation's
wealth and its leaders' ability to manage intangible assets.
The global scope of the United Nations, he adds, will enable
WIPO to bring new knowledge to nations that need it most.
Few entities can reach developing nations as well as the U.N.,"
he says. "It's an intergovernmental organization, and that
means it's driven by diverse government interests."
WIPO programs provide a solid foundation in intellectual property
management, but they will leave it up to participants to exercise
their rights in the nations where they work.
"The fact that emergent
economies are struggling with this is good news," Conley says.
Even in a nation like China, where the market for copycat
goods and pirated entertainment is thriving, business people
are starting to ask questions about intellectual property.
He gives the example of a Chinese musician who sets out to
sell an original album only to find his songs copied and distributed
by a media-pirating neighbor. Suddenly, this musician takes
an interest in his rights.
the tools of entertainment production become more widely available
to average citizens and more budding artists and entertainers
emerge, Conley says, they too will appreciate the utility
of innovation incentives embedded in IP rights:
"The only thing that
exceeds the speed of the original innovator is the speed of
a fast follower."