Skills and knowledge have become the only source of sustainable long term competitive advantage.
Knowledge, which used to be tertiary – after raw materials and capital – in determining economic success, is now primary. With this comes the need for more differentiated systems of determining who owns what intellectual property, netter protection for whatever is owned and faster systems of dispute resolutions when disputes arise.
Clear, easily enforceable, sellable ownership rights to intellectual property have to be established. Reverse engineering (the politically correct phrase for copying) is way of life in the corporate world. But where should the limits be? Whatever the answer, it's not to be found in a patent system more than a century old.
It is not so clear, however, what it means to own knowledge or how those ownership rights can be enforces. What apart of their knowledge can employees take with them when they move to a new employer? How do employers stop employees from taking the employer's intellectual property when they go? Where is the dividing line between knowledge in the public domain and knowledge in the private domain? Without stronger systems of protection, companies will defend their economic positions buy keeping their knowledge secret, but a recent study found that 73% pf private patents were based on knowledge generated by public sources such as universities and non-profit or government laboratories.