Joff Wild

The blog that I wrote the other day on the IP community's relationship with the general and business media provoked a few comments - some agreed with me, others did not; all were thought-provoking contributions to a debate on what I believe is an issue of fundamental importance to all those inside the IP world. This blog is an attempt to reply to some of the points respondents made and to move things on a little.

First of all, I completely agree that journalists have a professional obligation to find out as much as they can about the subjects which they write on. I also accept that there are bad journalists and a lot of bad reporting about intellectual property - both in terms of general pieces and also in write-ups of specific events. I am sure we have all read stuff along the lines of how so and so got a copyright on his patent for the XYZ brand. It makes me cringe as much as anyone else.

So having said that, it is also important to stress that journalists can only learn if they are taught. If a story breaks at, say, 1.00 pm and your deadline is, say, 6.00 pm and you have to write, say, 500 words in a way that will make your story more appealing to the editor than the one your colleague is putting together across the desk (essentially, that means convincing the editor your piece will resonate with the readership more than the other one), then you only have so much time to do the research and to find out what is what. If you make a couple of calls and you get a "no comment", or a "I'll have to call you back", or someone starts spouting legalese at you - and, believe me, all three scenarios are extremely common - then you just do not have the luxury of spending an hour or two on the internet working out how a brand is different to a copyright. You just have to go with your hunch. That is the reality. 

Likewise, if someone comes to you with a story about patents on life or the dysfunctional US patent system harming innovation, for example, and they present you with easily accessible information, a series of people to speak to from companies and/or NGOs you have heard of, then what is not to like? As someone who does not know the ins and outs of intellectual property, why would you doubt what you are being told? Unless, that is, there are other equally visible groups, companies and organisations making it absolutely clear in plain language that there is another point of view. Alternatively, say you are given a story about patents on pigs and you attempt to contact the company that holds the patents and it will not comment, what are you supposed to do when you are up against a deadline and you think you have something of real interest? You just get on and put the piece together. 

The truth is that journalists are going to write stories about IP with or without the help of the IP community. However, if the IP community wants those stories to be as accurate as possible, it needs to be as available as possible to help out. Furthermore, if the IP community -or parts of it - would like to see certain types of story covered, then it needs to get proactive. It needs to identify journalists to contact, understand how they operate, understand the kinds of publication they write for and what style of story such publications are after. With this knowledge, it is then important to put together a pitch that explains precisely why the story is of interest and who is available to help the journalist write it. There needs to be a realisation that deadines are sacrosanct; that accessible (in other words non-technical), exclusive information and pithy quotes from good people are like gold dust; and that if you supply a journalist with something his or her editor likes, then that journalist is much more likely to take your calls and read your emails in future.

None of this is brain surgery, of course. Good communications specialists will be able to tell you this straight off the bat. However, to get it right does take time and cost money. At the end of it all, you still may not get the story you were hoping for. I can understand why IP professionals throw up their hands in exasperation at the coverage that IP gets. All I am trying to explain is why it happens and how the situation might change. At the end of it all one thing is always worth bearing in mind when it comes to the mainstream media. It is this: as someone working in one of the more obscure corners of the business world, the IP professional seeking to inform the boardroom, legislators and/or the general public is going to need the journalist on the national newspaper, the leading business magazine, the top rated technology blog or the major TV channel, much more than he or she needs the IP professional. It may stick in the craw of many to admit it, but we are talking about a very unequal relationship here.

There are a lot of similarities between the C-suite executive and the business journalist who do not "get" IP. They both need a narrative that resonates so that their interest can be sparked. However, there is one major difference. Ultimately, members of the board and other top-level officers are being negligent when they ignore their companies' IP positions, and it could well end up costing them and their companies' money. Journalists have no such concerns.