It’s well known that the effective management of intellectual property can add a great deal of value to companies in various fields. Although many tend to think of patents and other forms of IP in strictly legal terms, they can themselves be valuable business assets which create both economic and social value for a business and its consumers. But that value is often attractive to malevolent actors who would rather reap the benefits of that value without properly licensing the IP, whether that involves the misuse of a brand logo or a novel technology. A 2013 report on the costs of IP theft pegged the annual amount of American economic value lost due to IP theft at $300 billion.
If your business has been or is interested in developing innovative new products and services for its consumers, 2018 can and should be the year that serious steps are taken to put an effective IP management policy into place. The following is a short list of IP management steps your company can take to add more value in 2018.
Take Notes and Keep Records - A patent or registered trademark is not the only way that a company can protect its market advantage over competitors. Keeping a record of the development process for any intellectual property can help you establish an earlier date of ownership for that idea, beginning with its inception and early development activities. If possible, try to use a digital means of recording information which can apply a time stamp to establish when the IP was conceived. This is important for several reasons, including:
- Even if you’re in a first-to-file jurisdiction, patent applications should still be treated as trade secrets until publication and documentation can help establish liability in a misappropriation case;
- Favorable tax treatment in a “patent box” jurisdiction requires good record keeping; and
- Creation records are important for other forms of IP protection such as copyrights.
Use Strong Data Encryption Tools - Of course, digital records stored on servers leave a company open to the risk that unscrupulous entities and individuals may attempt to access that data. This is especially true for any firm that has a partially or wholly distributed workforce contributing to research and development efforts. Enterprise-level encryption systems should be a consideration for any firm looking to increase its R&D investment.
Develop Trustworthy Business Relationships - It’s not just faceless entities that steal IP; sometimes, active or former business partners, contractors or employees can be the source of IP theft. Though the case is ongoing, the Google/Uber case presents a current example of the potential risk and stakes. Firms should be careful to police exactly who has access to the company’s IP, and restrict access to only those with an absolute need to know. Also, talk with and constantly train your employees, contractors and business partners regarding best data protection and confidentiality practices. Trade secrets and overall respect for a company’s intellectual property are as much a function of corporate cultures based on trust and fidelity as anything the law or technology has to offer.
Talk to Experts on Global IP Policies - If your product or service is successful domestically, it’s a fair bet that demand likely exists for it overseas as well. When you identify a foreign market into which you want to move, talk to IP experts who are knowledgeable about the state of intellectual property rights protection in those regions. Aside from national policies, IP developers should at least consider efficiencies afforded by such mechanisms as the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) for patents and the Madrid system for trademarks. Consider also reviewing the annual Special 301 Reports put out by the Office of the United States Trade Representative. These annual reports assess the current state of global intellectual property rights protection.
Audit Your IP Management System Regularly - While developing your IP management strategies and policies, document them so they can be referenced in the future. Every quarter or so, revisit them, examine how they’re being put into practice, and give an honest assessment of how well they’re working. Course correct where needed. Intellectual property is an investment which should pay off in added value, and regular assessments can help to contain costs and further increase value. It helps to have an employee at the firm or an outside resource dedicated to conducting such audits.
Align IP Strategies with Business Goals - At the end of the day, the goal of any IP management strategy is the successful achievement of business goals and not simply obtaining more and more IP. The discovery of novel solutions to conventional problems often requires open-mindedness and out-of-the-box thinking, but the use of IP rights to protect innovative products, services and brands demands a strict focus on what the company wants to protect. One hand should know what the other is doing, and they should be operating in harmony.
The management of intellectual property to successfully increase a company’s value requires creative thinking and great attention to detail. See what steps your firm is able to take in 2018 to harness in-house innovations more effectively for commercialization.