Dr Roya Ghafele has been the Director of OxFirst, a spin-off from Oxford University, since 2011. In addition, she has held senior academic positions with Oxford University since 2008; following stints at Harvard and U.C. Berkeley. Until September 2015, she also held an Assistant Professorship in IP Law with the School of Law at Edinburgh University. Prior to that, she worked for five years as an Economist with the U.N.’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the OECD.

Roya was trained at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies, the Sorbonne and Vienna University. Her research interests include IP valuation, IP-driven growth, IP audits and Open Innovation.

As part of our Special "IP as a Business Asset", Roya answered some questions for us which we collected in this little interview. For more information on the topic, please also refer to the related article.


Why is it important to manage IP?

Dr Roya Ghafele: IP will play a decisive role in upcoming technology spaces such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data or the Internet of Things. Depending on what approach one takes to IP strategy it can lead a company to growth or peril.

The question of IP strategy is particularly pronounced as the nature of wealth generation is radically changing. In the knowledge economy, the name of the game is ownership over knowledge resources, often protected through intellectual property. This alone seems reason enough to question the type of IP strategy that a firm needs in order to establish itself in the knowledge-based economy.

Why do you think IP is an economic asset?

Dr Roya Ghafele: IP can be seen as an enabling mechanism rather than a defensive right. This turns traditional understandings of industrial property on their head. However, both within academia and business there is an emerging trend of recognising the value proposition of IP through an intangible assets perspective. IP can be seen as an emerging asset class that can be proactively managed, developed, and nurtured to enhance business value.

Why does IP give way to a commercial paradigm?

Dr Roya Ghafele: Without a functioning IP system, knowledge - like labour - cannot be alienated, and its value is limited to the ability or inclination of the innovator to put it to work. Such a system disadvantages innovators by inhibiting their ability to monetise their ideas, which they can do under an IP system even if they lack the time, skills or resources to commercialise it themselves. The IP system places knowledge and ideas in a market system, acting simultaneously as a legal framework that facilitates disputes over ownership and infringement, thus lowering the cost of enforcement for individual firms. From a social perspective, the absence of a functioning IP system that can be observed in many developing countries, annihilates immeasurable values of knowledge and ideas by providing no system through which to realise their tradable worth.

Is there space of corporate social responsibility in IP management?

Dr Roya Ghafele: IP bears the potential to be the currency of the knowledge-based economy. At the same time it has been source of much criticism. How to come to grips with a concept which has by and large not been yet understood for what it is worth, is the key element of any IP strategy. Hence, a firm will need to elaborate on the opportunities and gaps it could face in a wider international IP system and identify key business models for IP driven value capture. From a corporate social responsibility point of view, it will need to identify how the introduction of intellectual property rights over technologies can be used to foster inclusive growth and what corresponding measures and strategies are needed to achieve this. Good examples of how to do this can be found in the Medicines Patent Pool, for example, where concerted IP portfolios are being sourced in view of addressing international development needs. Possibly, such initiatives could find wider recognition in the IP community.

From a practical point of view, what do SMEs, start-ups and scale-ups need to do to embrace IP as an economic asset?

Dr Roya Ghafele: They should to the best of their abilities, seek to learn about the issues at stake and get information where possible. Also, they should carefully consider when to go for an IP strategy and when to consider alternative approaches to the management of knowledge sources. Think about IBM! For a long time now, they have remained the biggest filer of patents in the USA, yet at the same time they have been very engaged in open source software. This apparent paradox seems to have helped IBM to generate substantial revenues from IP, while at the same time taking advantage from an alternative knowledge paradigm.

Thank you for the interview!


Further information on the topic can be found here:

‘Why IP matters’ OxFirst at Said Business School, University of Oxford

  • Find out why IP matters and how to commercialise your IP

Some more literature on the topic:

1. What Young Innovative Companies Want: Formulating Bottom-Up Patent Policy for the Internet of Things. OxFirst for New York University Press

  • Find out what IP challenges the Internet of Things presents to SMEs and Start-Ups
  • Learn about what response mechanisms the European Internet of Things community is developing to come to grips with IP
  • Understand why initiatives such as the European IPR Helpdesk are so important in this context 

2. Perceptions of IP and why we need to re-imagine IP. Roya Ghafele at the time with UC Berkeley

  • Find out how the way we perceive and understand IP determines how we can manage IP
  • Question your own cognitive bias and radically rethink how else you could look at the IP question

3. Managing IP in economies in transition and in developing countries.OxFirst for the World Bank

  • Learn how IP can be managed in developing country contexts
  • See about best practice in mid- to low-income countries
  • Discuss what the key take away for you is from this research study