In the digital age, protecting intellectual property rights comes with a unique set of challenges stemming from a general lack of control over digitally-distributed IP. These challenges could not have been predicted by the creators of the Copyright Act of 1790, nor the lawmakers writing intellectual property laws in the centuries that followed.
Without the guidance or protection of laws designed specifically for the rapidly changing digital age, businesses must navigate digital intellectual property issues on their own. Organizations looking to protect their digital IP while monetizing assets must consider various opportunities and threats unique to the digital age.
More people can access more information than ever before. Works of art, patented products and processes, and other intellectual property available online can be accessed by any number of the 4.5 billion worldwide internet users. The internet, and the democratization of information it supports, offers users “economic, political, financial, job-related, and communication benefits.”
However, this ease of access presents a challenge to entities looking to monetize their digital IP. When intellectual property is available online, its owners must address specific opportunities and threats. Digital IP is generally available to more people, and more people simultaneously, than the physical manifestation of an idea. This allows for increased revenue potential and, depending on the nature of the IP, additional societal benefit as well.
If a business wants to limit the number of people who can access their property, cybersecurity is required. For businesses collecting and/or storing user information, data security becomes even more important. These security requirements, which must be continuously monitored and upgraded to protect against more and more sophisticated attacks, are costly.
Potentially even more costly is the damage done to brand value and revenue potential if unsecured assets are replicated and distributed. Because digital intellectual property is easily accessed and copied, counterfeit products are a valid concern. Adding to this concern is the fact that while the internet is a global “borderless digital environment,” IP laws are written and enforced on a national or regional level.
Businesses must also weigh the benefits of secure limited access with the potential detrimental effects caused by a lack of public access. In some situations, open source licensing allowing for online collaboration can be mutually beneficial to inventors and end users. Another solution to this challenge presented by intellectual property in the digital age is a shift in revenue model from sales of physical goods to subscription access or advertising revenue.
The digital ecosystem is a rapidly changing one. This same feature that enables digital innovation has the potential to make a business’ intellectual property obsolete. Addressing and adapting to these shifts requires strategic planning. Not only do advances in digital technology occur rapidly, but the laws addressing digital intellectual property issues change often as lawmakers try to keep up with advancing technology. Laws fluctuate so frequently that it can be difficult to predict how a law will be interpreted and if your IP is protected.
The market can shift just as quickly as the legal environment as well. Consumers’ likes, dislikes, and behaviors change quickly in the digital age. Businesses also must also be aware of new, nontraditional, and indirect competitors vying for the same customers online, as “digitalization… is shrinking the boundaries between different industries.”