Fail to think locally (no. 13 in our list of IP mistakes)

‘Think globally, act locally’ – but do you really mean it?

This has been the slogan of many multinationals during the years but still many fail in this respect.

The new wave of expansions into China, India and Indonesia give probably the most vivid examples of the need to think locally: understand the culture, find key partners, understand the legal constraints and develop IP and business strategies that work within the given context. Why are companies still failing to adapt to adapt their IP strategies locally?  It’s mainly an issue of three things: people, ideas, and tools.


Just as it can make sense to hire a local guide when you travel in an unfamiliar country, and can make a lot of sense to engage local experts in IP law and commercialization strategy to make sure you take the right actions at the right time the right way within a given IP authority. Attracting and building stable relationships with local IP representation familiar with the local laws and the workings of the administrative and judicial systems is crucial – especially in countries known to hold distinctly different perceptions over IP and its business use. Employing local expertise not only let you tap into this knowledge but also brings you access to local contacts that can be used to further expand your network and business.


Failure to think locally can also occur if you do not pay adequate attention to cultural mindsets (business and otherwise) around IP in your market. In certain situations intellectual property might not offer the protection needed on the market and you will need to create a broader strategy to protect it. Piracy, for example, is a greater issue in some countries than others and among some products and some customer demographics versus others. Moreover, the public opinion can, in some cases, significantly shape the governmental regulation for intellectual property (see India’s review of the provisions on compulsory licenses: Access to healthcare – is it really such a big IP issue?) In China, cell phone piracy has reached a new level in that the pirates are sometimes adding innovations of their own useful to local markets that the innovator companies do not include.


Each market may have different tools to use or different levels of benefits the tools may provide. Think about a patent itself as an important IP tool. Assuming that an intellectual property asset from one country will be treated in the same way and offer the same rights as in another country can easily prove to be wrong. Patents grant the right to force exclusivity, and the power of those rights varies, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot, depending upon whether you are in the US, UK German, France, Japan, China, India, and the rest of the countries of the world. In order to succeed in making use of and upholding your IP rights in foreign countries you will have to know the differences in IP and business law that apply on those local markets and be fairly familiar with historic case law of interest. You should also not expect that IP will hold up in one country because you have obtained IP in another. You need to understand and have filled the requirements for the protection you want locally.

Overall failing to think locally means not using all the resources available to understand the workings of the local market and identify possible opportunities and obstacles in new target markets. Identifying possible obstacles and opportunities is the first step; acting to take advantage (or overcome the obstacles) is the next.

(This is number 13 in our list of IP mistakes and how to avoid them.)

[Image credit – Bedouins: CharlesFred]

[Image credit – Chinese street stalls: Aaron Kyle]

5 Comments on “Fail to think locally (no. 13 in our list of IP mistakes)

  1. I entirely agree with the points raised in the article. Just want to add that practice and implement these considerations overtime will enable the company to be quick to prepare a global patent strategy both in terms of writing patents
    and being ahead of the competition in knowledgeable global coverage.

  2. I think that this proposition, is very valuable specially when western lawyers (EU+US) are in charge of IP strategy abroad, specially in developing countries, where the emerging markets that have yet developed to have a respect to IP law and culture. In most cases, business practices are not exercised by the book, specially when there is a large gap between what the law requires and how locals conduct their businesses in a given market.
    In such context, having a local on board is crucial for success and sometimes lack of it is the primary cause of failure in most cases.
    From my experience, we have solved several crucial legal problems, just because we had the right locals on board, and what’s funny is that such problems have been resolved out of court in a much less expensive and time saving mechanism.
    Sometimes, the best “legal” solutions are not available in complex law books or jurisprudence, are not provided by expensive lawyers but instead by ideas of very simple but experienced locals, who sometimes don’t even know how to read and write, however, they are the most knowledgeable when it comes to market mechanics and business norms in their environment…

    • Thanks Shaheen, great comment. Local know-how is definitely critical. What steps would you recommend to readers to address these issues?

    • Thank you for your great comment Shaheen. In a pool of foreign resources how would you go about identifying and attracting these specific persons/companies? What do you consider to be essential characteristics for these persons/companies for you?

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