Using IP

One of the common images used of countries, companies, even families is that in hard times the family silver is brought out of the cupboard where it has lain unused for generations and then sold to fill a short term gap in finances. Looked at the other way, what good was the family silver doing anyway? Immense value locked up in under used, often unused assets; the family silver hidden in a cupboard and brought out for ceremonial occasions and even rarer use. IP has had the image and for good reason.

For some, IP, particularly in the field of patents, has been about creating and storing IP, often indefinitely. This build but do not use was a common mode; an easy resonance for inaction. Not true for all IP, some like trademarks and copyright, have been long in practical use. Perceptions have shifted in last decade, prompted by thought leaders such as Kevin Rivette and David Kliney whose Rembrandts in the Attic prompted much patenting mining and some assertion in pursuit of ready cash. The use of patents in support of commercial aims, and in particular the creation of economic growth, has been more sporadic, perhaps because it is harder to see, but more likely because there is less of it when there should be more. Recent patent assertions and counter-assertions in the mobile phone industry have given greater visibility to one use of patents: the protection or attempted protection of market share by using patent assertion to slow down if not stop the opposition. Patents are an exclusory right and this sort of use fits within their purpose, but such use is one aspect of their potential. The innovation they represent, and the equally if not more important know how behind them, are the spark and the fuel for technology innovation to drive economic growth.

Even now with much hype about IP, particularly copyright in the digital age, there is really very little attention being paid to getting companies, individuals let alone governments to use IP to support the creation of economic growth. There is some limited attention to awareness, to helping companies create IP, but still little or nothing is done to help them use it, let alone to encourage them to use it.

Most governmental attention focuses on either adapting and updating the legal system(s) for IP, like the current upgrade to patent laws in the US or copyright laws in the UK, or focuses on adjusting taxation to promote R&D to create jobs or to help in the assertion of IP by major stakeholders against threats which would undermine their business model. In themselves these are not bad things to address but largely they miss the opportunity to help companies, particularly small and medium sized companies, to create value and economic growth on the back of IP, often IP that they already have.

Companies, including small and medium sized companies, are still using their IP, often without conscious acknowledgment. All businesses are built on the creation and use of IP. The majority sell products or services embodying IP they have created in an entirely natural way, without advice or intervention. Then what is the issue? Why do companies now need to be not only more aware of the IP they have but also how best to exploit their IP? In short, the world has moved on; players are more sophisticated, and there is untapped potential, unrealised value in IP assets. It is no longer sufficient simply to make and sell your better mouse trap, your new business idea. Competition, global competition, is sweating every ounce of advantage out of speed of action, use of IP, and adaptability. At the same time new opportunities are opening up, needing different modes of action: “I do it all” is no longer an advantage, it is a sign of blinkered thinking. Finally, there is an increasing sophistication in the IP industry itself about how to use IP better. The use of IP is becoming the subject of academic study and the benefits are spinning back into the practical use of IP, where there is an improvement in already existing practices: artisanal skills becoming industrialized.

So “Using IP” needs to rise up the agenda of everyone, from governments and politicians, to companies and CEOs, to families and individuals. In an economy where our contribution is increasingly at a personal level, where our own creation and delivery of IP is the new mode of working, knowing how to use IP is going to be as vital as any other business skill.

The IP Observer is here to encourage the use of IP by everyone.