The new year is just around the corner. If you’re thinking about how to grow your business in 2019, here’s one way that many Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) often overlook: a comprehensive IP strategy.
It may seem to some that having an intellectual property strategy is something with which only large businesses need to be concerned. However, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and others, this is not the case. Innovations developed by any company – large or small – are assets whose value needs to be protected.
IP can be a significant source of income for any company or enterprise when handled properly. Data from the most recent World Bank Development Indicators says that the worldwide IP licensing market accounts for more than $400 billion. The benefit of having a solid strategy is that IP can become a sustainable competitive advantage.
Just as importantly as the economic benefits, a robust, comprehensive IP strategy can strengthen a company internally by promoting a climate of innovation with strategies in place to achieve the optimal return on investment.
Involving stakeholders in the formulation of an IP strategy encourages cooperation in the development, ownership, and exploitation of new technologies, creative deliverables, and innovations in general.
Getting started with a strategy document
A successful approach to IP strategy should be three-pronged. It should:
- put strong protections in place to guard your IP
- optimize your R&D operations
- monetize your IP assets.
While you flesh out your plans for each of the three prongs, write them down in an official IP strategy document. This will become a “living document” that can be revisited and, if necessary, modified according to a regular schedule. Your IP strategy document should:
- define the company’s goals and issues and identify how IP can help achieve or resolve them.
- include an assessment of the opportunities that your current and future IP can exploit.
- be available to all stakeholders during and after its development.
- be communicated to all other relevant personnel to foster compliance with its methods and goals.
- be implemented and followed, not simply created and filed away.
IP questions that need answers
Here are some questions that will help you shape your IP strategy:
- What does the company want to do with its IP? The answer to this question will set the foundation for the entire IP plan.
- What’s worth protecting? Be smart about your IP’s value. For example, you should base patent valuation primarily on the benefits it offers your customers.
- How will you monetize the IP? The company needs to consider monetization principles based on its specific IP and context. Criteria should be established that recommend the use of one option over another in a range of circumstances. For example: Should IP be sold outright, licensed to generate income and perhaps reach a wider audience through the licensee, or shared in a collaborative relationship with another company to benefit both entities?
- How will you protect the IP abroad? Policies should be developed for protecting IP internationally, both for defensive purposes and to derive the maximal financial reward from your IP.
- How will you integrate new IP? Detailed procedures should clarify how new IP is to be handled internally as it’s developed.
- Will you need access to IP owned by others? A thorough examination of the company’s possible uses of others’ IP should be performed, and licensing arrangements made, if necessary, so that the company is not violating others’ patent rights.
To ensure an effective execution of the IP strategy, an IP management infrastructure should be established. The main duties of the IP management team are:
- taking responsibility for resolving IP issues and enforcing strict adherence to IP policies, with clearly stated deadlines for compliance.
- monitoring external parties’ use of the company’s IP in both local and international markets so that IP income due to the company is captured, and so that infractions can be remedied.
- creating a response infrastructure, including legal resources, that can execute a range of practical enforcement options should the need arise.
Importantly, the IP management team should be capable of realistically analyzing the odds of success vs cost of litigation should an infraction occur, including having the tools to ascertain how strong the company’s IP is in a legal context.
Leaving no earnings on the table
As WIPO notes, “Regardless of what product your enterprise makes or what service it provides, it is likely that it is regularly using and creating a great deal of intellectual property.” That being said, SME management should always endeavor to get the most out of everything a company produces, which includes not just their products, but also the range of innovations that make them possible. Devising a thoughtful, forward-looking IP strategy is clearly, therefore, in the best interest of every Small to Medium Enterprise.