Editorial - The future of IP in higher education

In our October issue, I discussed some ideas on the future of IP teaching in higher education, advancing a number of proposals to improve the way in which intellectual property, broadly conceived, is taught to students in the UK and beyond. There are certainly many institutions, all around the world, that apply these principles and deliver first class IP education to their students. However, IP teaching does not always play a central role in higher education: sometimes it is confined within the boundaries of an optional, complex, module in law courses, or relegated to supplementary training offered to (and not always accepted by) research students, or unconvincingly marketed as a set of short "crash courses" for students enrolled on science or arts degrees. 

What is lacking, in such cases, is a vision, a perspective capable of keeping together IP education, creativity and innovation, The creation of spaces (not only in a physical sense) dedicated to learning goes hand in hand, as far as IP is concerned, with the creation of spaces to create and innovate: such spaces should ideally blend together. Following this idea, I suggest that IP teaching should be comprehensive and compulsory, as we should not separate the substance and form of IP protection (i.e. creativity and inventiveness from the legal frameworks employed for their protection). Further, I envision an inclusive and open-minded IP education that crosses the boundaries of faculties and calls for the participation of industry players, professionals and other external speakers. Finally, I discuss the necessity of providing students with an awareness of the broader significance of IP, promoting occasions for networking and sharing, in an international and comparative perspectives.

You are more than welcome to share your thoughts and experiences, as well as your own list of wishes for the future of IP in higher education, either as comments to this post, or via email.

The future of IP in higher education

Stefano Barazza
Email: stefbar@gmail.com
In 2012, the National Union of Students (NUS), together with the UK Intellectual Property Office and the Intellectual Property Awareness Network (IPAN), set out to evaluate the attitude of UK students towards intellectual property, with the aim of identifying new strategies for effective IP teaching in the higher education sector (see ‘Student attitudes towards intellectual property’ (2012), available at http://www.nus.org.uk/PageFiles/12238/IP%20report.pdf (last accessed 14 July 2016)). The study showed that over 80% of the students surveyed considered IP an important part of their curriculum, but portrayed a picture of IP teaching that prompted a widespread reflection, leading to the creation of new resources to streamline and standardise IP education. Successful examples of these initiatives include the UK IPO’s Cracking Ideas platform (http://crackingideas.com/), the IP Tutor online courses (http://crackingideas.com/keystage/Higher+Education), and the EPO/EUIPO’s IP Teaching Kit (http://www.epo.org/learning-events/materials/kit.html). 
The study identified a number of potentially critical areas. First, IP teaching seemed to focus on plagiarism (73%), followed at a great distance by copyright (35%), with trade mark (13%) and patent (12%) law aspects mostly limited to modules for law, business and engineering students. Second, there was evidence of a very low level of engagement with the wider IP community, as outside speakers were involved in only 5% of the IP modules. Third, IP teaching appeared to rely heavily on traditional teaching resources, with a significant lack of engagement with practical case studies (14%) and materials from professional or government bodies (6%); similarly, there was very limited reliance on external organisations for support on IP issues (e.g. only 5% of the students mentioned the IPO as a source of support). Finally, students advocated the tailoring of IP teaching to their academic studies, asking for a more in-depth coverage of IP issues. 
Four years later, the situation has apparently improved: the availability of high quality resources, as well as other initiatives (e.g. the StudentshIP Enterprise Awards in the UK), has increased IP awareness and set minimum requirements for IP education. However, under the surface, significant issues remain. The traditional approach to IP teaching, based on self-contained modules taught from a predominantly doctrinal and theoretical perspective, appears insufficient to meet the needs of future IP lawyers, authors, artists, scientists and people in business. In this perspective, we advance five recommendations to shift the focus of IP education from informing to involving. 
  • IP education should be comprehensive and compulsory: it is necessary to recognise that both law and non-law students are likely to encounter IP issues at various stages of their future careers. IP teaching should not be limited to plagiarism; rather, it should include an overview of the entire spectrum of IP rights. For law students, a sound knowledge of intellectual property law appears essential in all fields of law (e.g. commercial, corporate, contract, employment law, etc.), and would justify the inclusion of an IP module within the core LLB curriculum.  
  • IP modules should be cross-faculty: there is a strong need to strengthen a multifaceted understanding of IP, to help students contextualise the subject and understand how creativity shapes, and is in turn shaped by, intellectual property (for example, a mixed class of engineers, lawyers and musicians would promote a much richer understanding of IP from a variety of perspectives).  
  • Professionals and outside speakers should play a key role in IP teaching: the contribution of external professionals is of fundamental importance to (i) bring the subject to life, by sharing their experience and case studies, (ii) show the interconnections between IP and other subjects, and (iii) prompt students (and lecturers) to confront the constantly changing legal framework, engaging with the most recent issues and cases. Professionals should include IP lawyers (readers should feel free to volunteer…), but also staff of cultural and scientific institutions, right holders, etc.  
  • IP teaching should be context-aware: students should familiarise themselves with the significance of IP for cultural and scientific policies, as well as for business development and related fields (e.g. marketing). Law students should be introduced to the crossroads of IP and competition and should be supported in developing a wide range of skills (in particular, litigation and contract drafting) within the IP module.  
  • IP education should go beyond national boundaries: this seems to be a necessary corollary to the previous recommendations, especially in light of the results of the Brexit referendum in the UK. It is essential to expose students to a global understanding of IP in an international and comparative perspective, promoting exchanges and networking with other universities in the EU and beyond, to make sure that tomorrow’s lawyers, creators and people in business will work together to further creativity and scientific progress.

© The Author(s) 2016. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

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