Remember that scene in the 1967 movie The Graduate when Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke) offers career advice to a young Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman)?
“Plastics!” he says. “There’s a great future in plastics.”
Half a century later, it’s not plastics but rather intellectual property (IP) — patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets — that is now the key engine of opportunity for almost any successful career in the future.
Until recently, intellectual property was a narrowly-specialized field of interest only to inventors, corporate R&D managers, and lawyers. But in today’s knowledge economy, where ideas and innovation rather than labor, raw materials or capital investment drive economic growth and business success, intellectual property has moved to center stage as the key success factor in business, science, the arts, and the professions.
Here are the five key reasons why intellectual property will be critical to your career:
1. Intellectual property now comprises over 35% of the total U.S. economy.
According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. intellectual property is worth more than $5 trillion a year and comprises 35% of total U.S. GDP. This means IP’s value in the U.S. is greater than the total GDP of any other nation on earth except China.
IP-intensive industries account for over 40 million jobs today, or nearly a third of all U.S. employment. Average weekly wages in such industries were 42% higher than in other sectors, and in patent- and copyright-based industries, the wage premium is even higher — 73% and 77% respectively. And IP-intensive merchandise accounts for 60% of total U.S. merchandise exports.
Put simply, the future is no longer plastics, it’s intellectual property. The smart move therefore is to “follow the money” and build a career in a fast-growing IP-intensive industry.
2. IP and other intangible assets represent 80% of the market value of U.S. public companies today.
Forty years ago, tangible corporate assets like plant, equipment, raw materials, and buildings and real estate represented 80% of the market value of publicly-traded companies in the U.S., with intangible assets comprising the other 20%.
In today’s knowledge economy, however, that ratio is reversed. Studies now show that intangible assets like patents, trademarks, and trade secrets now represent 80% or more of the market value of public companies. And one reason that’s true, as a groundbreaking study pointed out last year, is that on average patented products and services generate 50% more return than unpatented ones.
Since it’s likely your employer’s chief asset is intellectual property, too, learning how to deploy, defend, and monetize it is a good way for ambitious employees to get ahead.
3. IP is driving the biggest new developments in science, business, arts, and the professions.
Look around and you’ll see intellectual property’s growing role in almost every industry and profession you can imagine.
The business pages are filled with headlines of corporate “patent wars” and patent sales or acquisitions, including Yahoo’s current patent sale. IP is so crucial in business because, as bank robber Willie Sutton famously noted, “That’s where the money is” in most companies.
Meanwhile, debates rage in art journals and in social media over whether the artist Richard Prince’s use of other people’s Instagram posts is infringement or fair use. And in the music industry, Led Zeppelin’s acquittal of copyright infringement charges was a big relief.