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GGP March 2013

SPEAKER’SCORNER Defence is the best form of defence In the fourth century BC the Mediterranean and Near East witnessed a period of unification (and war) under the direction of Alexander the Great. As the general of the Macedonian forces, he led his armies across Persia and into Asia with the ambition of creating a single supply chain from Europe almost to the far side of the Arabian Sea. Much like the Roman Empire that would follow, the Macedonians sought to conquer and absorb rival armies following confrontation, bolstering their own forces and forging local alliances that previously, had been believed unworkable. Almost 2,500 years later, businesses are facing similar challenges in terms of protecting their properties, technologies and products in ambitious and frequently necessary, attempts to enter international markets. As the international economy continues to stagnate, the importance of intellectual property (IP) rights has become a pivotal action point for businesses seeking to maximise their potential for profitability and growth within increasingly challenging market conditions. I have previously written (see GGP, Sept 2012 page XX) about the potential harm and danger forgeries and counterfeits may pose towards, both the user and legitimate manufacturer but the threat of piracy extends far beyond physical danger and bruised reputations. Given the intensive nature of research and development (R&D) within the glass industry, the analogy of Alexander the Great is of relevance in both entering markets as a seller and in working with local agents, e.g. employing a third party manufacturer or distributor. Imagine the scenario – you have just spent hundreds of thousands of pounds developing and promoting the new be-all-and-end-all answer to a problem the glass industry has been facing for the last 20 years, only to find out someone has then purchased your product, reverse engineered it and has a copy on sale The conquering forces of Alexander the Great still had to come to terms with their former enemies and the need to do this is often underestimated by many businesses trying to defend their ‘territory’. substantially cheaper than your own (due primarily to the lack of R&D costs as you kindly did the legwork). Alternatively, the contracted manufacturer with the wonderful, twenty first century facilities, may not have sufficient policies and procedures in place to ensure that your products are protected. Either way, you as the legitimate rights holder, are under siege from others wishing to take your ideas and make their own fortune from it (Steve Jobs of Apple hated Microsoft over exactly this same alleged activity). Such circumstances can cripple a business and as such, should be of most immediate concern when entering into any overseas market. IP protection is fundamentally important and just as the Macedonians held a strategic advantage over their adversaries, rather than sheer size in number, the legitimate IP owner must cover all the bases to ensure that their products and services remain their own. Local knowledge can be one of the most important items in any IP protection ‘toolkit’. Knowing who to trust and who not to, can truly be the difference between success and failure. However, the truth of the issue is that, like Alexander, size of force is not a precursor to success. Smaller companies that are able to leverage legislative and procedure based mechanisms for protecting IP, can be afforded the same opportunities as commercial giants. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) makes things relatively easier by offering support for organisations looking to register, or enforce IP rights and home based organisations, such as the Intellectual Property Office, offer support and guidance to UK based firms. Just as with Alexander’s armies upon entering Babylon, new markets can offer untold treasures for the brave and bold but there can also be a sting in the tail. A major stumbling block can come when, like any international venture, cultural It is often said that we do not learn the lessons of history enough. Matthew Appleyard*, Leeds Metropolitan University, explains why strategy matters. differences cause a slight bump in the road. Many companies have come across this when entering China as the country’s Confucian heritage has confused and confounded intellectual property rights for decades. Whereas western perspectives of IP, being a precursor of economic growth, is supported by the WIPO, the traditional Confucian attitude to such things, is that all knowledge has been learned before and there is no such thing as a ‘new’ idea. This perspective can provide a great opportunity to developing civilisations and economies in fostering accelerated development, by ensuring that basic amenities and knowledge are not withheld from the masses. However, in the western world which has arguably commercially, developed beyond the satisfaction of basic necessities and knowledge, the only way to encourage innovation and development is through reward; financial or otherwise. So, to cope with such disparities in attitudes to IP protection, the organisation must ensure that it is fully equipped to ensure its trademarks and knowledge is protected. Local knowledge is fundamentally important in making any move towards an international market as it is with any large investment. For example, you would not buy a house in an area you didn’t know anything about. Local knowledge includes, superficially at least, an awareness of the host countries’ legal frameworks, cultural attitudes towards IP – if the managers don’t understand it, there may be an issue – and worker attitudes and aptitudes, i.e. are they capable to stealing your ideas? As a result understanding, not only legislative protection but the administrative position of the market is essential as just as in Britain, the legal system may choose to enforce the law to a variety of degrees. Put simply, just because the law exists, it does not mean enforcing it will be legal, or even realistically possible. The final act of Alexander’s journey east and life, ended in tragedy with his premature death and his empire in ruins at the hands of his competing generals in a desperate rush for power. It is worth considering this in any expansion, especially those that revolve around treasures as valuable as knowledge and intellectual property. Always work with partners you can trust and ensure that necessary procedures and protocols exist to protect IP rights from external threats and the potential of usurpers from within. For further information, tel: 0113 8124887, or e-mail: M.P.Appleyard@Leedsmet.ac.uk *Mathew Appleyard is a senior lecturer in corporate strategy and governance at Leeds Metropolitan University, specialising in Intellectual Property Protection and corporate strategy. 74 March 2013 Glass & Glazing Products


GGP March 2013
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