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How patents are the key of meritocracy

Pier Giovanni Giannesi – Senior Intellectual Property Advisor to the Pirelli Group — talks about innovation and intellectual property

Home life How patents are the key of meritocracy
How patents are the key of meritocracy

Knowledge-based enterprises in a knowledge-based society. At first glance, these concepts appear to be novel, salient features of our time, and yet, according to Pier Giovanni Giannesi – Senior Intellectual Property Advisor to the Pirelli group — "this has always been the case: when you sell products and services, you actually sell the intellectual property that the material object carries". An ideal example is music. For those of us who still buy CDs or vinyl records, the transaction of purchasing an album is really about [acquiring] the "license to reproduce the music itself as the media itself is not worth anything". Essentially, it is a matter of rights.

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Intellectual property is fundamental for Pirelli, which invests heavily in the sector and produces on average forty priority patents per year, extending them throughout a number of countries with competitive interest in order to constantly build on its portfolio of about 6,000 active patents. Giannesi defines this portfolio as "alive, as all technically outdated patents are abandoned". In addition to patents, Pirelli also manages a large selection of trademark brands that cover all product groups: for example, " The Cal™”, which distinguishes the famous Pirelli calendar, is a registered trademark.

According to Giannesi, the uniqueness of a patent lies in its "distinctly meritocratic" nature given that they are only granted for inventions that significantly contribute to the progress of industry and are "not obvious when compared to the techniques available before the date of the patent". Furthermore, without this form of protection, the value of new inventions would likely to be lost and it is therefore of crucial importance that Italian companies invest in intellectual property. "When we sell a tyre," explains Giannesi, "we sell the innovative technology that produces it, which in turn is the product of considerable investment in research and development". There is "only one way to protect the results of companies’ and individuals’ investments, and that is through patents, trademarks and know-how". The power of these tools is obvious: they apply to everyone, big and small, and can even act as leverage for small business owners when dealing with big companies interested in their innovations. Indeed, it is no coincidence that “small enterprises who know how to use patents have great success”.

Even software is protected by copyright, however in this case, the copyright covers the precise way in which you instruct a computer to perform certain operations, but does not protect the method or process, which may or may not be patentable. Giannesi explains, "It is the same kind of protection that applies to a novel, however, one can always create a remake, for example. Let’s just say that the copyright does not protect the story per se, rather, it protects the way it is told. On the other hand, a patent covers the story, and therefore the method by which one solves the problem".

Intellectual property is a complex world featuring different protagonists: first of all, the companies and inventors, and then the legislators who make the laws, the patent and trademark offices that grant protection, the technical consultants and lawyers who work to ensure patents are well protected and litigated and finally, the judges who decide on disputes.

So, in the midst of all this, how is Italy placed? According to Giannesi, well. In our country, "Know-how is protected as a property right," and this applies to both confidential technical and business related information with economic value, while we also have a solid tradition in the safeguarding of trademarks.
In terms of patents, Germany ranks better as the tradition of patents is "more consolidated, [as] all German companies patentsd the same goes for the United States, where everyone recognizes the importance of trademarks and patents. In Italy,"We need someone to explain and convince entrepreneurs" [of their importance]. Consequently, the number of European patents in the name of German companies is four times that of their Italian counterparts, even if — as Giannesi points out — "the impression is that our patents are of high quality". We patent less, but when we do, we do it for the most important or "essential" inventions.
There are, at present, two fronts that remain open in the field of intellectual property. The first is China, which is normalizing its relationship with the subject and encouraging Chinese companies to file patents by offering public incentives to enterprises that register at least six patents per year. In fact, something similar is happening in Italy, where the use of industrial property rights (patent box) is encouraged by offering tax breaks to those who can prove to have generated income from intellectual property assets. The second front is Europe, where patent protection only exists on a national basis, leading to complications and costs that discourage businesses from using patent protection. This said, the process of forming a Unitary European Patent system and a dedicated European Patent Court aimed at overcoming these complications for what is now a global, rather than national competition, has begun.

Pirelli considers intellectual property as a key sector and manages its intellectual property assets in accordance with established policies and dedicated internal databases. Indeed, over the last twenty years Pirelli has attributed added value to the concept by awarding a gold medal (a little ingot) to the inventors of examined and granted patent inventions with particular competitive merit for the company and a silver medal to the inventors of patent applications filed for examination by the relevant offices.

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