Following a global reset, small, nimble players such as start-ups should seize the day.
22 December 2020
Mammals and dinosaurs appeared at much the same time, about 200 million years ago. For the next 140 million years, dinosaurs strode the planet while furry, furtive mammals cowered in burrows by day but emerged at night to hunt insects and dinosaur eggs while the cold-blooded reptiles slept.
A global geographic reset 60 million years ago eliminated dinosaurs but the warm-blooded mammals survived and came to dominate the planet. Their adaptability saved the day.
The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a global reset, doing much more than interrupting business worldwide for a few months. Online commerce, working from home and remote conferencing are fast becoming default settings, changing the roles of shopping malls, office buildings and the businesses in them.
Today’s start-ups are like the small, furry creatures that emerged from their burrows to blink in the daylight of a transformed world, mice that could become whales if they seize the opportunities.
Attendees at the 10th Business of IP Asia Forum (BIP Asia Forum), jointly organised by the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and the Hong Kong Design Centre heard experts discuss using intellectual property (IP) and associated technologies to meet the challenges and opportunities firms face. The forum was held online on 3 and 4 December and included the Global Tech Summit.
Crisis into opportunity
Co-organised with Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, the Global Tech Summit (main picture) brought together technology leaders, scientists and researchers, including Professor Li Zexiang, Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Prof Li, who researches robotics and automation, said that building a company is very different from research because it requires looking at customers’ needs and doing marketing. He said transferring good technology into products can take a long time – and requires time to educate customers.
Prof Li said the pandemic had changed the way people live and work, bringing many opportunities for innovation and technology. New needs, problems and demands arise, creating opportunities for innovative services and products. He said the pandemic offers an important lesson – that the future will be uncertain and full of challenges. He observed that start-ups which survive the pandemic are usually calm, analysing the supply chain then forming a crisis plan. He advised incubators, accelerators and universities to hold more technology-related education and training programmes for new businesses, connecting them with the supply chain and preventing them from falling into business traps.
Prof Li said prospects for technology excite him because of rising demand in the consumer market. He suggested start-ups begin by looking into the needs of industry and customers and then work backwards. The key to success, he said, is to have a big idea and then balance the technology with design. He believes technology companies are going to change our mode of living.
Another Global Tech Summit session focussed on recent technological developments in the healthcare industry. Alexander Ng, Vice President, Tencent Healthcare, discussed how Tencent supports the fight against COVID-19, explaining that the healthcare industry involves many factors such as the needs of users, accurate information and trends in the pandemic. Tencent put more resources into online consultations and online-to-offline connectivity through the multipurpose WeChat app. The firm also developed online tools such as COVID-19 situation maps, trend analyses and a fever chatbot, and swiftly modified existing tools. Electronic health cards connect to COVID-19-related data to enable people to resume daily activities while electronic health insurance cards enable online healthcare transactions.
Other Tencent developments include artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for physicians that can locate infected areas in the lungs through deep learning and also support the early triage of critically ill COVID-19 patients. The company now supports nearly 1.2 billion users and its COVID-19 update models have been used more than 12 billion times. Mr Ng said Tencent aims to connect consumers to healthcare services in future and is also developing a one-stop-shop health tool kit for WeChat users.
In the BIP forum’s plenary session, John Mulgrew, VP, Deputy General Counsel & Chief Intellectual Property Officer, Lenovo, presented the “open innovation models’ diagram”, explaining that start-ups and other companies should absorb technology from the outside, listen to customer feedback and communicate more with suppliers. These interactions with external parties help to make better products and more effective marketing services. Mr Mulgrew introduced “inside-out innovation” – creating something for a specific purpose which turns out to have broader application. He pointed out that there are legal issues involved in collaborations such as access to IP, preserving differentiation and ownership. There are different kinds of collaboration too, including joint inventorship and overlapping development, while companies need to give serious consideration to the legal aspects.
Christina Petersson, Chief Intellectual Property Officer, Ericsson, said collaborations help to improve global standards, giving the example of Ericsson’s collaboration with Mainland Chinese smart-device manufacturer OPPO on 5G technologies. She said that innovative technology exchanges allow more parties to participate, while a licence helps ensure there is no overlapping. She also shared on the interface between IP and competition law, explaining that more countries and regions now have competition laws in place, which helps resolve arguments over competition and protect innovations and the creative industry. She said competition laws also encourage the smoother functioning of industry.
Beat Weibel, Chief IP Counsel and Group Senior Vice President, Siemens said that as the world becomes more digital and interconnected, no company is in a position to master all technologies alone. Success is all about collaboration and differentiation. He gave the example of Siemens’ electronic motors, where all elements in the motors can communicate and interconnect. Mr Weibel said IP is essential, otherwise companies will lose their advantages and rights. IP rights define both the ownership and scope of intellectual achievement, and Mr Weibel said such rights are the only bridge to turn inventions into innovations. He concluded that there can be no success without collaboration.
Business of IP Asia Forum
- Hong Kong