In today’s world, managing your business has become more than maximizing the return on investments in employees, products, and equipment. Your company’s biggest asset is its intellectual property. This is more than just patents, trademarks and copyrights, but includes all the knowledge that makes your business work, such as branding, customer lists, know-how and trade secrets. Developing an IP portfolio allows you to differentiate from competitors, secure a competitive edge by protecting your IP assets, gain a higher market valuation, and provide opportunities to investment and partnerships.
If you watch the news or read the Business Section in a newspaper, you can see just how important a company’s IP is to its success. Big companies like Microsoft and Xerox spend a huge amount of money each year defending its software products from piracy. Hollywood studios like MGM are also constantly fighting against copyright infringers. Intellectual property is now a key component to determining a company’s value, so IP portfolios may be critical to survival. While you may not have this level of resources, there are some things you can do to capitalize on your IP portfolio.
1. Take stock of what you’ve got. The first thing you need to do is to create your portfolio so you have a better sense of what IP you already hold and how it can serve your business. In order to fully capture all your IP, think broadly. Consider a manufacturing process as a trade secret that could be an obstacle to competitors or a shorter delivery method that needs protection. Determine the value of your brand identity. You will want determine what IP you have, which of it is already protected, which are of strategic value to the business, and what additional IP would be necessary to meet your goals.
2.Create a system to manage your portfolio. Start with something simple that you can develop over time. Your system should manage what you currently have, plus be able to incorporate the innovations you (or your employees) come up with. It should also be able to catch potential infringers early, which is easier and less costly to defend against than once the infringer is also well-developed and established. Consider incentives to motivate employees to be innovative. Train your employees to identify potential innovations that could be valuable to the company. Create a template for employees to disclose new developments to ensure you capture all the information you need each time.
3. See where you fit in the big picture. Once you understand the value of your own business, you need to see where you sit in the industry. Study the IP stock of your competitors to determine what niches are still open to push out rivals and where you will have to settle for a small segment of an important area. Consider licensing as a valuable tool to achieve your goals.
This process can be overwhelming. If you feel like you are in over your head, your best investment may be to hire an IP attorney to conduct an IP audit of your business to help you identify what you have and what you need and to develop a plan to fill in the gaps.