Knowledge Management and the Contextualisation of Intellectual Property Rights in Innovation Systems

David Castle, Peter WB Phillips, Abbe Brown, Keith Culver, Daniela Castrataro, Tania Bubela, Shawn Harmon, Graham Dutfield, Patricia Barclay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wealth creation and the assessment of prosperity are increasingly tied to science and technology based innovation. Knowledge drives innovation, but knowledge is intangible and defies easy management using methods developed to create, track, value and account for tangible assets. Inventors, innovators, venture capitalists, companies, governments and civil society all have a stake in the management of knowledge, and recognise the magnitude of the challenge behind any demand for effective management of innovation systems. For these and related reasons, formal law-based systems for intellectual property management have come to the fore, demonstrating that innovation is indeed occurring. Intellectual property, particularly patents, have a multiplicity of functions as countable inputs and outputs of innovation systems, exchange tokens, social signals, factors in the coordination of innovation, strategic building blocks in securing competitive market positions, and so on. Patents are so central to conceptions of innovation that entire innovation systems are being conceived in terms of the dynamics of intellectual property protection.

Whether patents can be relied upon to serve all of the functions demanded of them, and whether there is a need to reconceptualise innovation systems was the question put to a group of Scottish and Canadian experts. Recognising that critiques of patenting, and especially licensing behaviour, have in recent years gained notoriety as alternatives such as open-source and patent pools are considered and tested, the workshop participants explored a path that is less often taken. The less common, alternative, approach to intellectual property views it as one among other kinds of intangible asset requiring active management. Although an extensive knowledge management literature exists, it has not effectively located formal intellectual property management within the broader and more important exercise of knowledge generation and management.

The exploration of these themes begins with a discussion of the advent of knowledge-based economies in which the management of intellectual assets is a serious challenge. Intellectual property rights are but one type of knowledge asset, and there is a broader context of intangible asset management that is easily lost when attention is paid exclusively to intellectual property rights. How this happens is explained in the third section, in which the over-reliance on intellectual property rights as a metric of innovation is discussed. The several problems discussed in this section, combined with the discussion of knowledge management from the preceding section, sets the context for a new conception of intellectual property rights as a type of managed knowledge in innovation systems. By contextualising and deemphasising the role of intellectual property rights – the ‘un-IP’ heuristic – a set of alternative priorities emerges regarding the management of knowledge in innovation systems. These eight themes are discussed in detail in the latter half of the paper, and lead to some general conclusions about how knowledge management and innovation systems ought to be construed, and how intellectual property rights within such systems should be interpreted, as well as suggestions for the direction of future research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-50
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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