Goodbye IAM and thank-you

Goodbye IAM and thank-you

I’m beginning at the end today. This is my last ever column for IAM. It is the culmination of a process that started in December 2021, when I retired as the platform's editor-in-chief.

Although the farewell tour may have been a bit convoluted, I can now declare a career writing about IP, spanning more than 30 years, is officially over. I’ll still be doing some back-office consultancy with my former colleagues, but the journalism is done.

Cigarettes and typewriters

It all began in the late 1980s doing production and editorial work in the newsroom of a B2B publication called Metal Bulletin. There was a telex machine and operator in the corner of the huge open plan office; typewriters rattled away; telephones rang constantly; a cloud of cigarette smoke hung permanently below a nicotine-stained ceiling.

All copy was typed-up and sent to typesetters who returned pages of galley proofs. We used scalpels to cut out individual columns from the sheets and laid them out with wax on cardboard spreads. These then went to the printers where magic that I never quite understood took place and magazines came back. Processes have moved on a bit since then.

But what never changed was the thrill of getting great scoops – whether my own or from other IAM reporters - that I knew were guaranteed to grab attention and generate huge numbers of reads. They always made the late nights or early mornings working them up totally worthwhile.

Even today, I can close my eyes and see the headlines: the BlackBerry patent sale; the UK pulling out of the UPC; an EPO president quitting; Intellectual Ventures’ investors revealed; the creation of an IP strategy team at Xiaomi; and so many more. I’ll miss all that immensely.  

But it was not just breaking news. There was also the deep satisfaction of getting an interviewee to say something that was going to resonate across the industry, of seeing articles I wrote or commissioned cited by others or referenced by someone I greatly respected in a conference session. Heck, there was organising those conferences in the first place and watching other ideas turn into tangible, sustainable products.

The greatest joy of all, though, has always come from covering a subject that matters and which I care about deeply. I hope people have got that from my writing over the years. I am passionate about IP. It delivers so much that is positive. It is endlessly fascinating, it improves lives, generates wealth and creates jobs. IP makes the world a better place.

Learn politics

Of course, not everything in the garden is rosy. There are problems, some of them profound. One of the biggest is the general failure inside the patent community to understand just how political so many issues have become. The days of leaving things to the experts are long gone. 

We have seen the results in various parts of the world. There’s been the triumph of the troll narrative in the US and the damage that has done there, while in Europe the poorly thought-through EU SEP licensing regulation is set up to do much more harm than good. The recent covid-inspired TRIPs waiver is another example, with the danger now that this could lead to a similar initiative covering climate change technologies. 

Unfortunately, the IP policy narrative is all too frequently set by interests whose priority is the rolling back or bypassing of rights. Advocates for weaker protections understood long ago that the way to engage with people who do not understand IP issues is to use accessible language and deploy data, discussion points and anecdotes that resonate; ones focused on price, economics, competition, choice, SMEs and so on. Whether these arguments accurately reflect reality is often a secondary concern, if it is one at all.

But fair or unfair, this is how the agenda gets set. Then the IP community responds. Responding is what IP people tend to do. They are never on the front foot. What makes things even worse is that when the response does come it is all too often focused on the negative: the “you don’t understand”, the “keep off the grass” or the “we can’t do that”.

But from access to medicine through fighting the effects of a heating planet to rolling out ever-higher levels of global connectivity quality, this is not the way to get traction. Instead, it is how to set opinion against you.

My hope is that in the coming years more people inside IP will realise this. It’s time to get proactive, to embrace transparency. Stop being the ones who say "no", start communicating in ways that strike a chord. The greatest frustration of all is that there is such a good story to tell; one of a sector adapting to change, finding solutions and delivering results. So tell it!

Constructive engagement with critics and policy makers is essential, as is allocating the resources to do this effectively. It cannot be done on the cheap. Right now, politics is not the IP community’s strong point. That must change.

Eternal thanks     

To end, though, I’ll go back to the beginning.

I got my first job in IP journalism in 1992. My wife and I had been living with our young son in Spain – including a stint for me at UK celebrity gossip rag Hello magazine in Madrid – but for various reasons we had to come home. That meant I needed to find UK work. I saw an ad to be editor of a publication called Copyright World. I had no idea what that entailed or even what copyright was. Nevertheless, I applied and was successful.

Learning happened on the job via countless phone calls, face-to-face London meetings and events. The generosity everyone I spoke to showed with their knowledge, along with the patience they displayed in educating a tiresome know-nothing who wouldn’t stop asking very basic questions, changed my life. My eyes were opened to IP. I never looked back.

From Copyright World, I went to Patent World and then over to Euromoney, where I edited Managing Intellectual Property. After six years there I freelanced for a while, getting bylines in a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, and doing some broadcast work on top. A flash of inspiration on a stormy night in Normandy led to the creation of IAM and everything which flowed from that. It has been one hell of a journey.

At the end of it all, my overwhelming sense is of immense good fortune. I could not have wished for a better career, covering a more fascinating subject. I have met countless extraordinary individuals, visited unbelievable places that the likes of me don’t usually get to see, and helped create something that is still going strong as it enters its third decade.

There are too many people to thank by name, far too many, so I will just issue a general statement of gratitude – to everyone I have worked with, to the contacts and sources who have provided me with so many great stories and insights, to the sponsors and speakers at IPBCs and other events and, most of all, to those who have read my stuff.

This extraordinary life I have had the privilege to lead would not have happened without you. For that, I owe you so much.

Joff Wild is the creator of IAM and its former editor-in-chief

Unlock unlimited access to all IAM content