Understanding International Intellectual Property Rights

After reading the title of this week’s blog, I am sure some of you might be wondering why I chose to write on this topic; the blog will be long, convoluted, and tedious. And you would be wrong. This blog is going to be short and sweet.

There is no such thing as International Intellectual Property (IP) Rights. The end. 😀 

Copyright is a type of intellectual property right

The fact of the matter is IP rights are territorial. Each country creates its IP rights through national laws, and the laws can govern conduct only within that nation’s boundaries. However, there are several international IP treaties that establish ground rules such as how long should copyright or pattern last, defining what constitutes a trademark, etc. What these treaties do for the countries that join them is provide standards and a baseline for all to follow, thereby providing more protection and confidence to creators and inventors seeking to safeguard their creations.

The most crucial minimum standard set up by these treaties is the principle of National Treatment.

Under national treatment, a country that grants particular rights, benefits, or privileges to its own citizens must also grant those advantages to the citizens of other states while they are in that country. In the context of international agreements, a state must provide equal treatment to citizens of the other states participating in the agreement. Imported and locally produced goods should be treated equally — at least after the foreign goods have entered the market. The same goes for services, trademarks, and copyrights and patents.

Principles of the trading system, World Trade Organization

It means that countries that have signed these treaties must guarantee the same IP protection to foreigners that they provide to their citizens.

One of the first international treaties to recognise creators’ rights was the Berne Convention in 1886 for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. It provides creators such as authors, musicians, poets, painters etc., with the means to control how their work is used, by whom, and on what terms.

I know this is cliché, but international IP rights have taken on new importance with globalisation. Most significant businesses operate beyond their local boundaries and are truly multinational.  Trade is global, and there is no iron curtain. So, it is understandable that companies or creators want to protect their creations and maximise returns on their investments. This results in IP rights playing a significant role in international trade.

Sellers of pure IP products such as movies, literature, art, software, etc., will usually only sell to countries with robust IP rights.

Movies, literature, art.. Pure IP products

Today, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an agency under the United Nations, is responsible for promoting and protecting intellectual property across the world by cooperating with countries and international organizations. However, even if a signatory country does renege on IP rights, there is still no way to enforce any punishment, as IP rights are territorial and have to be enforced by the county itself.

It is also a fact that five developed countries receive around 90% of all technology royalties and licencing fees. This means that for developing nations to have access to the latest technologies or medication, they will have to pay a premium. As a result, developed and developing countries have very different attitudes towards IP.

Developed or first world countries try to maximise the economic benefits they get for their creations/services through strong IP rights/laws, arguing that robust IP rights are necessary to protect their significant investments in developing their products. Hence, if a developing country has strong IP laws, it is generally considered an excellent trading partner by most developed countries.

On the other hand, developing nations need modern technology and medication to advance and compete with other countries and improve the standard of living of their citizens. Developing nations can view strong IP rights as a tool the developed nations use to either deny or restrict access to modern technology, preventing them from growing or, in some cases, even surviving, making them reliant on the developed nation.

So, who is right? We all fall on one side or the other, and both have valid points of view.

Understanding International IP is not easy. It can be convoluted and complex, and at the end of the day, it depends on the laws of the country you operate in.

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Business Strategy – The art of corporate war

From the title of this blog, I am sure some of you might be wondering why I am channelling Sun Tzu.

Statue of Sun Tzu in Yurihama, Tottori, in Japan

Let’s start with the origins of the word ‘strategy’. ‘Strategy’ is originally derived from the Greek word ‘strategos’, which means the art of the general. In other words, the origin of strategy comes from the art of war, and specifically the role of the General in war. In the 2nd century B.C., when Sun Tzu wrote the ‘Art of War’, his writing’s message was plain – to win. 

Despite ‘strategy’ becoming an often-used buzz word in management, there still seems to be a lot of confusion between ‘goals’ and ‘strategy’. To explain this and in keeping with the war theme, let us consider Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia. Imagine a time long ago, Alexander has decided to strive for immortality by creating a true world empire. He calls his generals together and states that his strategy is to build this empire. 

Statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece

I am not saying that he said that in those exact words because there is no way of knowing what he thought or who he consulted. Hypothetically, if he said that this was his strategy, then that is the wrong use of the term strategy. That was his ‘goal’ – to conquer the world. How he went about conquering the world was the strategy he used.

Now that we have established that ‘strategy’ directly correlates to a general’s role, let us understand what the role of a general is?

A general’s role is not to fight the war but to tell others how to fight the war. It is the general’s vision of how the battles are to take place that is to be carried out, and his orchestration of all the different pieces that will result in the failure or success of his vision. His role is to see the big picture, see what the unit commanders cannot, see the whole, and orchestrate all the units’ positioning to achieve his vision.

Business is also a kind of war, and the casualty of this war is the shareholder’s investment. The Chief Executives’ challenges are similar to that of the generals – to develop strategies that will lead to victory. 

So, how do executives develop strategies that will lead to victory?

In my opinion, four key questions need to be answered by your strategy to be classified as a good strategy.

Where is our market?

You must identify the battlefield that will provide you with the best advantage, like Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, recognised a field near Waterloo in Belgium to defeat the might of Napoléon Bonaparte. It is essential that an executive correctly identifies the markets that will maximise the profits or reduce costs for his goods and services. 

Field Marshal His Grace The Duke of Wellington

What is our unique selling proposition (USP)? 

During the Napoleonic Wars, Napoléon Bonaparte, for the most part, was the undisputed ruler of Europe. Logically, he should have strangled and run England into the ground. But England had correctly identified two of its biggest strengths – trade and the Royal Navy and used them to not only stay afloat but to ultimately win the war. So, identify the unique value(s) your product or service offers and how it will best benefit the identified market.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, by Jacques-Louis David, 1812

What are our resources and capabilities?

Resources refer to the things we have in our toolbox that can be brought to bear for our benefit. It may be capital – either human or monetary, superior technology, something intangible like brand equity, or tangible, like a diamond mine. How well you utilise what is in your toolbox for maximum benefit depends on your capability. During the Napoleonic Wars, England had a mighty naval fleet (resources), but that by itself is of no benefit as France also had a mighty fleet. What England had were great sailors and leaders like Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, among others, capable of wielding the resource (Royal Navy) more effectively.

Vice-Admiral The Right Honourable The Viscount Nelson

Sustainability

Once you have identified your USP and identified your capabilities and resources, how can you sustain in the markets you have identified – to continue to win over time. Even after Admiral Nelson’s death during the Battle of Trafalgar, England did not fall apart; they continued to martial their resources and continued to develop their capabilities to hold France across the Channel.

While the above points give us an idea of what strategy we should employ, they also indicate what we should not be doing. We should not operate in markets where we add no value or do not have the resources or capabilities to maintain sustainable growth. 

A good strategy, while letting us know what we should be doing and why, should also inform us where our boundaries are and what we should not be doing.

I am sure I don’t have to tell you all that this blog is in no way comprehensive and barely scratches the surface on business strategy or strategy in general. Please feel free to add value to it by sharing your thoughts and experiences on developing ‘strategy’. Happy to hear from you!

Please watch this space for similar posts. Strategy forms an integral part of most of our online master’s degree programmes. You can chat LIVE on WhatsApp with one of our Education Advisors for more information on all the programmes we offer, the application process, and for details on discounts we might be offering at this time.

7 ways to improve your Critical Thinking

One of the things that I dislike about corporate culture is the many different terms that get thrown around to describe a logical and an otherwise common-sense action. Many managers and companies like to create new terms and abbreviations for actions and rules they have incorporated. However, the thing is, the more popular terms like ‘critical thinking’ are still around for a reason – they work.

The word ‘critical’ might have a negative connotation, and you might wonder – “What is the point of thinking negatively?” But where ‘critical thinking’ actually helps is in understanding all the flaws in an argument or a decision, counter or correct the process, and finally arrive at the stated objective. 

Critical Thinking is: Independent Thinking + Information Analysis = Arriving at a Judgement

What do critical thinkers do?

They think, they question, they do not accept everything at face value, using their ability to reason and to solve problems through logical reasoning. This is why most employers would be keen to employ critical thinkers because they are the catalyst that will propel the company forward. 

So, what can you do to become a more critical thinker? 

Ask questions
  1. Asking questions – Don’t be afraid to question everything, don’t take anything at face value. Ask:
    1. What are you trying to achieve?
    2. How have you arrived at this conclusion or decision?
    3. How would I know what you have told me is accurate? Show me the proof and explain it to me.
    4. What might you have missed out or overlooked?
  2. Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups – One of my majors during graduation was physics, and one of the things I disliked was the proof of every theory started with “Assume…..”, which is why we used the headline of this point as our motto during physics class. But leaving our childish assumptions aside (because who are we to question some of the greatest scientific minds ever), in our mundane lives assuming things will just make an ass out of you and me (ass-u-me). So, question all assumptions. 
  3. Self-reflecting – Critical thinkers must be able to reflect on themselves. Ask yourself if your beliefs are based on logic or emotions. Don’t be afraid to take a step back and analyse your decisions or belief, recognising if you have any bias and if it played a role in your decision-making process.
  4. Listening – When you discuss something with someone, don’t get ahead of yourself and start thinking, but listen to their point of view. Only once you hear and understand their point of view can you have enough data to analyse and evaluate, and offer alternatives if required. 
  5. Understanding the motive – Understanding the motives behind the source of the data you are basing your decisions on is essential because the data will always be skewed towards the source’s beliefs. For example, in the US media, the same story on President Donald Trump or President Joseph Biden will be covered in a completely different way by Fox News and CNN. That is why you have to question what you are being told. 
  6. Researching – Today, we are blessed with endless sources of information, and all of them easily accessible. Do your research taking advantage of all these sources of information and use your critical thinking to arrive at the best decision possible. 
  7. Keep an opened mind – So, you looked at data from multiple sources, applied critical thinking, and arrived at a conclusion. But still, going into a discussion with the assumption that you are right is wrong. As mentioned in point number four, if you assume you are right and are not listening, you will fall into point number two.

Learning to develop your critical thinking skills will go a long way in helping you analyse data and arrive at the best decision possible more often than not. Comment below if you know any other way in which we can develop critical thinking skills, we would love to hear from you!

Analyse data to arrive at decisions

Our online master’s degree management programmes help you become a better leader, and master’s degrees, in general, will help you in developing your critical thinking skill. Chat LIVE on WhatsApp with one of our education advisors for more information on all the programmes we offer, the application process, and information on discounts we might offer.

Can Corporate Social Responsibility help in developing society?

Star Trek is the best tv series ever made! That is, at least in my opinion. I have watched almost every single series of Star Trek several times. It makes me happy. You might be wondering why I have started off talking about a tv series, and the answer is that it shows us what humanity can achieve—our unlimited potential as a species.  

Commander Spock and Captain James T. Kirk, played by Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner, pictured here in Star Trek: The Original Series

But the reality is we are lightyears away from achieving even a fraction of this potential. And I am not just talking about the challenges we faced in 2020 (which doesn’t seem to be improving in 2021). Even before the pandemic, our global society was struggling and teetering on self-destruction. Poverty, global warming, population, crime, natural disasters, fake news, illiteracy, unemployment and untrained labour, and healthcare are just some of the challenges we faced even before COVID-19.   

Society has been struggling with questions such as – how can we ensure healthcare for all? How can we ensure economic development and technological progress that benefits humanity?  

Typically, we would just bump this responsibility onto the government, the United Nations, or to some NGO. And while the lion’s share of the responsibility does rest on them, the fact is, if we need to achieve anything, we all need to work together – citizens, government, companies, NGO’s, everyone.  

United Nations

To simplify things, let’s say our goal is to ensure economic progress and social justice for all while preserving our environment. What is the responsibility of a company in this? Well, companies’ success depends on people – employees and customers. If employees have job security and job satisfaction, they will work hard, be loyal to the company, and invest in its success. Likewise, if people have the money and an understanding of the company and its products and services, they will invest in the company. Therefore for a company to truly succeed, it must contribute towards the development of society as a whole. 

Typically, a company would view corporate social responsibility (CSR) as something they have to do to keep the government happy and maintain a positive brand image. These are just some of the side benefits of an acceptable CSR policy. If properly executed, CSR could be an excellent tool to develop society, benefit all company stakeholders, and contribute to the company’s growth while minimising the impact on the planet.  

How a company implements CSR will depend on several factors such as location, government, industry, etc. The COVID-19 vaccine has just hit the markets worldwide and was developed in record time by several pharmaceutical companies. Consider the pharmaceutical industry as an example to highlight what companies in this sector could consider when developing an effective CSR doctrine.  

Pharmaceutical industry is big business
  • Offering safe and quality medication to as many people as possible. 
  • An effective pricing strategy that can benefit all players involved.  
  • Ongoing support to patients. If the company can show that they are not just interested in the sales of their medication but is also committed to the patients’ recovery and wellbeing, they would have earned the customers trust and loyalty.  
  • Having effective human resources, training, and safety policies that ensure all employees are taken care off. 
  • Compliance to all laws and regulations of the land (both local and global). 
  • Defining ethical business practices (read our previous blog on Business Ethics).  
  • Reducing environmental impact and carbon footprint.  

Hence, for a company to have an effective CSR doctrine, they should contribute to being an economically efficient, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable development. While ensuring growth and profits by encouraging innovation, reduce costs, fostering a sense of ownership among all involved in a project.  

An effective and well thought out Corporate Social Responsibility doctrine can spark innovation that will drive your company onto new heights.  

Do you consider CSR to be a driver for positive change in society, a spark of innovation for the company, or do you think CSR is just another thing a company has to do not to be shown in a negative light by its competitors? Comment below, we would love to hear your views! 

Our online master’s degree management programmes help you become a better leader, and CSR is an integral part of it. Chat LIVE on WhatsApp with one of our education advisors for more information on all the programmes we offer, the application process, and for information on discounts we might be offering in these particularly challenging times. 

Business Ethics – 4 steps to ethical decision making

Cutting corners, that is what we as human beings do. Now, that by itself is not wrong, finding a more comfortable, simpler way to get a job done is smart. But the line that separates ethical behaviour from unethical behaviour is narrow, and if you are not careful in your search for the smartest way to work, you could just end up crossing that line!

Before proceeding with the blog, I would like to wish all our readers a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year 2021!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year

What is ethics? 

It is merely the belief of what is right or wrong based on the individuals’ morals/values, which in turn might be dependent on the society or culture to which the individual belongs to. So, what does this mean? Simply put, ethics is very individualistic; what I believe to be right or wrong might be antithetical to what you believe to be right or wrong.

Having said that, as a society of human beings living in the 21st century, we generally have a consensus on what humanity considers ethical and unethical behaviour, as a result of which, laws are created to uphold and protect what we believe is ethical behaviour. Now, some of these laws might differ from region to region; however on the whole, most laws are put in place to protect the innocent and to uphold what society considers ethical.

Laws

Formal laws typically represent a consensus on ethical standards.

For companies and organisations, the laws and standards that are used to judge the ethics of an individual can be extended on a much grander and more detailed scale thus incorporating the ethics of society on a corporate level. So, if a company is known to follow the law, by implication, it is an ethical company. But that need not always be the case.  

Yes, laws can be looked on as a standard for companies to follow; however, they are just a basis for an ethical discussion. Because at the end of the day, the legal ethics will depend on whose eyes they are viewed from. For example, while stealing is considered illegal everywhere and therefore unethical, it is unfortunate and criminal that in some countries child labour is still legal and therefore ethical (at least from their point of view), even though a majority of the nations will consider it unethical (and in my personal opinion, it is).   

Ethical decisions

There are several factors, such as values, morals, culture, etc., that can have an impact on ethical decision making. For example, if you ask a group of individuals a precise and narrow ethical question, you might get as many answers as there are individuals answering the question because each person is influenced by their upbringing and life experiences.

There are also some circumstances when an otherwise unethical behaviour may be looked upon in a favourable light. For example, a town devastated and cut off from aid by a natural disaster might force some desperate people to contemplate unethical actions like breaking in and entering an abandoned home or store to scavenge items and materials required for survival. Is this behaviour ethical or acceptable? Maybe not. But until we are put in a situation like that, who are we to judge?!

The point is when we make a decision, all we can do is to make the best decision we can at that moment.

Ethical decisions in organisations

Most organisations today have a diverse and multicultural workforce. While this is undoubtedly beneficial, there are also a number of challenges to be overcome, especially when aligning decisions with ethics.  Not everyone is going to agree with the ethicality of a decision! Also, you don’t want an organisation where everyone thinks the same – “groupthink”.

So, how do organisations work towards overcoming these challenges? 

  1. Code of conduct/ethics – Organisations need to start a ‘written code of ethics or conduct’. It has to be a written, physical document that is easily accessible, prominently displayed (on notice boards, company intranet, etc.) in the organisation, widely circulated among employees, made a part of induction for new employees, and made a condition for employment. What a code of ethics does is outline what the organisation considers acceptable behaviour, giving a baseline of what is ‘okay’ and what is ‘not okay’. 
  2. Ethics programme – Set up training programmes for employees that will educate them on what the organisation considers ethically acceptable decisions. The best way to learn is by example, so ensure that most of the training is situation-based.  Show examples of decisions made in the past, the challenges the decisions makers faced while deliberating, their logical reasoning, and finally why they arrived at the decision they did. Make it into a case study to get an understanding of what the new employees think and the decisions they would have arrived at in the current work environment.
  3. Ethics hotline – Most organisations do not want unethical behaviour to go undetected for a long period of time. The longer unethical behaviour takes to come to light the greater the damage to the organisation. Most people do not want to be labelled a ‘snitch’; it is a good way to lose the trust of co-workers and get isolated within your organisation. It could also have an effect on your reputation, which will, in turn, have an impact on your promotions and future employment. But for the benefit of the organisation, unethical behaviour needs to be brought to light, and the sooner, the better. Setting up a hotline that guarantees anonymity, and gives protection to the whistleblower against retaliation will encourage reporting against unethical behaviour. However, the organisation also has a responsibility to investigate comprehensively and arrive at an independent conclusion to not only protect against false reporting but to protect all the parties involved.
  4. Leadership by example – We throw the term ‘work culture’ around quite often.   Work culture is corporate behaviour which is set or determined at the top and trickles down to the rest of the organisation, and ethics forms an integral part of this behaviour. Most people in any position of authority usually set an example of ‘do as I say, not as I do’, which clearly send the wrong message to their underlings, and this is what usually ends up being the norm that is followed. There are very few leaders that are able to set the right, positive and ethical example because of the temptation to bend ethics in favour of greater profits. Actions speak louder than words and leaders have to set the example at the top for the organisation to follow.

These are just a few guidelines an organisation can follow to develop and encourage ethical decision making. What are the steps followed by your organisation to encourage ethical decisions? Any instances that you know of where companies have cut corners in their search for easy profit, and what were the consequences? Comment below.

Our online master’s degree management programmes help you become a better leader, and business ethics forms an important part of it. Chat LIVE on WhatsApp with one of our education advisors for more information on all the programmes we offer, the application process, and for information on discounts we might be offering at this time. 

What I wish I knew before starting a business -Robert Kennedy College Blog

Once upon a time (about twelve or thirteen years ago), I decided to try my hand at starting a manufacturing business. Why? I was in my 20’s, with an MBA and a few years of work experience under my belt, and I had a dream – to leave my mark on this world, to become the next Henry Ford or Steve Jobs, and I figured, if things go to hell, I was young enough to risk it and still have time to bounce back!

There is of course a lot more to this story and my thought process that lead to my decision, but this is not the point of this post. The point is, when you do decide to start a business there is this steep learning curve, and as the business is your own, there are a lot of factors that must be considered while making decisions. 

Many factors that must be considered while making decisions

Like me, if you came from the corporate world, still early in your career with limited managerial experience, you probably just had to look after a very specific task – sales, marketing, a small part of finance, etc. But when you are the head of your own business (no matter how small), you need to be involved in everything! Business Plan, Finance, Revenue, Marketing, Sales…

Strategic Management

When you have so much on your plate there is a risk of your dropping the plate and causing it to break into many tiny pieces (the “plate” here is your business :D).

Understanding how business works, the points to consider before making a decision, and knowing and correctly identifying the different sources of information on which to base your decisions is paramount for the success of your business. This is where strategic management takes on a whole new importance in your thought process. It does not matter how big or small your business/company is, start thinking strategically!! 

Think Strategically

Three principles underlying strategy: (1) Creating a “unique and valuable” [market] position (2) Making trade-offs by choosing “what not to do”, and (3) Creating “fit” by aligning company activities to one another to support the chosen strategy 

Prof. Michael E. Porter, Ph.D., Harvard Business School

The simplest definition of strategic management is “the formulation and implementation of the major goals and initiatives taken by an organisation’s top managers on behalf of owners, based on consideration of resources and an assessment of the internal and external environments in which the organisation operates.” Strategic management provides overall direction to a business and involves specifying the organisation’s objectives, developing policies and plans to achieve those objectives, and then allocating resources to implement the plans (source: Strategic Management for Voluntary Nonprofit Organizations, Roger Courtney).

A system of finding, formulating, and developing a doctrine that will ensure longterm success if followed faithfully.

Dr. Vladimir Kvint, Chair of the Department of Financial Strategy at the Moscow School of Economics of the Lomonosov Moscow State University

So, how do you go about making your life (business really) easier by implementing strategic management?

First, identify your goals – let’s say your goal is to increase annual sales, but what does that actually mean? It is just too vague. Quantify and be specific. As an example, our goal is to sell 100 ballpoint pens and 200 ink pens by the end of the next financial year.

Now, how do you go about achieving this goal?

  • Start by identifying what goods you are going to be manufacturing (in our example they are pens), then the market to which you will be selling these manufactured goods.
  • Next, organise the resources you will need to achieve your goals, like putting in place purchasing and supply chain management to ensure a timely supply of raw materials, people and equipment to carry out the manufacturing process, marketing and sales team to bring in clients, and employing or contracting an adequate support staff (if you are unable to do it yourself) to carry out other support functions.
  • There are also a number of external forces that can have an impact on your business strategy. One of the tools most used in understanding these forces and helping in developing a strategy is Michael E. Porter’s Five Forces Framework which is a business analysis model that helps explain why various industries are able to sustain different levels of profitability. The Five Forces model is widely used to analyse and determine the corporate strategy of a company.

Porter’s five forces are:

  • Competition in the industry
  • Potential of new entrants into the industry
  • Power of suppliers
  • Power of customers
  • Threat of substitute products
A graphical representation of Porter’s five forces

Understanding the principles behind strategic management might take time, but when it comes right down to it, you will find that it is basically logic. The challenge is in getting the right data from the right sources on which you can base your decisions, and of course the methodology you use to analyse the data to arrive at your decisions. A wrong strategic decision may end up costing you dearly.  


This is why strategy and strategic management is an important module in a number of our online master’s degree programmes

You can also chat LIVE on WhatsApp with one of our Education Advisors for more information on the programmes we offer, the application process, and for information on discounts we might be offering at this time.