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War & Peace in the world of contracts

March 15, 2016

There are some undeniable trends in the way that trading relationships are being formed and managed. Among the most significant are the push for improved outcomes and greater value for money. These overarching concerns are driving demand for more collaboration between trading partners.

IACCM has conducted extensive research into the benefits and implications of collaborative business relationships. There is no doubt that collaboration tends to improve results, but such behavior is not innate to the way that organizations operate. The boundaries of self-interest are volatile, driven by shifts in business priorities and market conditions. However, many businesses are developing collaborative capability – for example, by investing in relevant skills, adjusting selection criteria, refocusing governance systems and operating with greater transparency around performance and risk.

Yet while these initiatives take root, we also see new battlegrounds emerging. Perhaps the most significant of these is in the field of patents, where state-sponsored growth means an inevitable era of conflict. Last year saw the 5th successive year of increase in filings, with an estimated 10.2 million patents now in effect globally.

In previous blogs I have highlighted the point that the patent system has strayed far from its roots of protecting investment by inventors. Instead, it has become an economic weapon and a tool to maintain wealth imbalances. As a result, emerging nations have recognized the need to join the club and they are increasingly the source of patents, with the strongest growth internationally in countries such as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam. To appreciate the scale of this shift, it is worth noting that China registered more patents last year than the United States and Japan combined.

The implications to contract negotiators are significant because the growing use of patents will impact pressure for indemnities. Buyers will have growing concerns about potential claims for infringement, especially in overseas markets. Defense mechanisms will be important. These may range from greater diligence in checking for existing patents, as well as having rapid access to patent experts and support services.

I spoke recently with Rakesh Mittal, CEO of Piverse Inc., a company offering such services to companies and organizations around the globe. “Emerging nations will continue to have GDP growth exceeding 3-4% for at least another decade and hence will demonstrate highest growth in consumption of consumer goods and services supported by global patents”, observed Mr Mittal. “With this growth in patent activity, most companies are struggling to find partners who can provide a framework for asset protection and for managing their global filing process at an affordable level. For many, the cost of patent back office functions is escalating year on year by at least 10-12%”.

However, the key point that is confirmed by Mr Mittal is that “As patents become a revenue source rather than just costs, patents take center-stage in this fight for global markets.” He also observed that many small and medium-sized companies have paid little attention to this topic in the past and therefore may have no internal expertise on which to draw – placing not only themselves, but also their customers, at significant risk.

What this means is that companies need not only to register their patents and trademarks, but also to research and build defensive capability. Increasingly the question is not if, but when and where, they will be challenged for breaching a patent, copyright or trademark, or will be forced to take action to protect their own assets. For all the talk – and merits – of collaboration, our world remains innately competitive. While the areas of battle may alter, conflict remains inevitable. Smart businesses make sure they are prepared.

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