As the coronavirus crisis rapidly evolves, CPA Global has been speaking to over 100 of its customers and listening to the views of some of the world’s leading IP decision-makers on the state of the market and their response to the evolving situation.

HOW IS THE IP INDUSTRY COPING?

Coronavirus is impacting all aspects of our daily lives. On top of the very real health risk, it is disrupting our social fabric and interrupting ‘business as usual’ operations. This matters to us all on many levels, the human one most of all. But for businesses operating within the Intellectual Property industry it is vital to ensure not only that existing IP remains properly protected, but that the innovation ecosystem remains sound, not least to protect competitive advantage when the world finally recovers.

The power and importance of invention in helping to find solutions to manage the crisis is already being demonstrated, ranging from the pharmaceutical industry’s race to find a vaccine or cure to some of the innovative concepts helping to mitigate the risk of the virus and its impacts – including smart helmets which identify fevers and 3D printed ventilators.

The IP industry – including the intellectual property departments of corporate enterprises and their legal advisers – is facing its own distinct challenges just like every other sector, both near term and long term.

CPA Global spoke to 100 leading decision-makers at corporates and law firms across Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and North America to capture the sentiment of the industry on the following key questions:

  • How long do they see the COVID-19 disruption lasting?
  • What current issues are they facing?
  • What issues do they anticipate arising?
  • What can the IP industry do to help?

Uncertainty pervades

While the Asia-Pacific region felt the impact of disruption first, COVID-19 has now hit across the globe. Many respondents felt that the crisis will be finite, but unsurprisingly given how fast the virus has been spreading and government responses evolving, there was little consensus over how long the current upheaval might last or what the long-term impact might be. While several respondents were upbeat, expecting no disruption or a few months at most, some expect it to take up to a year to return to ‘normal’, and more than half of those we spoke to admit they simply “don’t know” – making long-term planning difficult.

Balancing the workload

The responses suggest that most businesses are adapting well to the challenges of mass remote working (with around a third of respondents directly referencing doing so). However, many IP professionals expect to struggle with workload due to concerns over IT infrastructure, inefficiency when working remotely, coupled with the possibility of increased staff illness. Larger firms understandably appear better-prepared and have the necessary resources to cope. However, smaller enterprises have concerns about their future prospects and smaller law firms are likewise concerned that the pipeline of work may slow if client businesses start to struggle. The good news is, though, that respondents are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel and are actively planning for post-crisis scenarios.

Deadlines loom large

There are significant signs that businesses are concerned about meeting Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) deadlines. It’s encouraging to see some PTOs starting to step up and make plans to minimise the impact on activity. For example, the EPO and EUIPO extension of deadlines, with other regions starting to follow suit - such as the Korean Intellectual Property Office announcing automatic extensions for certain actions to April 30. Respondents also cited concerns around the ability of public bodies to migrate from a paper-based system swiftly, should sustained home working be required and the resource capacity of PTOs, should they themselves, suffer with lengthy staff absences.

Digital is coming into its own

Those businesses that are already digitally-enabled are finding that technological tools are becoming increasingly invaluable. There is a general realization in the industry that working from home, hosting remote ‘events’ such as video conferencing and webinars, and moving towards paperless and cloud-based systems are essential in the current environment – particularly when managing enforced remote working. This is likely to drive a huge acceleration in digital adoption in the future.

Signs that some are beginning to look beyond the short-term

A small number of customers are beginning to look to what happens post-crisis. APAC in particular, generally regarded as being deeper into the development of the virus, has seen a number of immediate planning conversations around digitalisation. Several other respondents mentioned the need for future assessment as to IP operation continuity planning. The general consensus of customer feedback points to an expectation that there will be a delayed revenue impact on their overall company which will in due course place pressure on the IP department to be even more strategic going forwards.

In the midst of the disruption around the world, customers said that innovative businesses are still seeking to continue to invent, file patents and protect their ideas through the assertion of their IP – supported by their advisers. While there will be lasting impacts from COVID-19 the overall importance of Intellectual Property will continue undiminished. Indeed, with many of our respondents reporting their active involvement in business continuity planning, the growing role of IP as an agenda-shaping asset and source of value for decision makers, for the long-term, has never been more clear.