Thursday, May 31, 2007

Who is Controlling Your Most Valuable Assets?

by Kathleen A. Sego
Chief Financial Officer
Innovation Asset Group, Inc.

Why do the management and protection of intellectual assets reside in the legal departments of most companies – rather than in the finance department? CFOs are charged with managing and accurately reporting the value of a company’s assets. Today, intangible assets are the largest and most valuable portion of the asset base for a majority of companies.

  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers has estimated that as much as 90 percent of the value of the world’s top 2,000 enterprises consist of IP.

  • In the United States alone, it is estimated that over $1 trillion of value is wasted in underutilized patent assets, to say nothing of untapped and under-managed trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.

  • According to the Harvard Business Review, two-thirds of U.S. Companies own unused or significantly under utilized technology.
As a CFO in an intellectual property management company, I find it puzzling that many CFOs do not take a leadership role in the management of this asset category – they either delegate this to the legal department, or the legal department independently initiates a process to track intellectual property, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. As Gary Bender at Ernst & Young observed last year in his article “Managing IP Risk in Accordance with Sarbanes-Oxley:”

“Responsibility for a company’s intellectual assets generally falls under the umbrella of the legal department. Unfortunately, many companies have assigned this task to one person or a very small department, not adequately recognizing the potential consequences. By understaffing or improperly controlling a company’s intellectual asset portfolio, organizations can both cut into their profit margin and put the company in jeopardy of a shareholder dispute or regulatory inquiry.”

I have observed that legal departments do a relatively good job at docketing, tracking patents, and managing the infringement of their assets – however, few, if any of the legal departments take the process of intellectual property management through the entire life cycle chain – to the financial optimization of the asset.

In this regard, the legal departments in many companies, or the executives in many companies who make decisions about legal departments do not understand the implications of IP as the set of core assets to their business.

This pattern of CFO’s not managing the value of their assets has not been lost on the IP opportunity industry. Businesses are emerging whose approach is to acquire patents (generally at a low price) and assert them against alleged infringers for royalty settlements or infringement damages.

If an active market existed today, much like the Stock Exchange, much of this value could be captured by the companies who developed the IP, offsetting the impact of disintermediating parties. The problem then develops – how does one value intellectual property on a consistent platform? What indexes would you use? How would you establish settlement?

Ocean Tomo is one example of an effort to standardize an approach to public company intangible asset market valuations. They have developed a suite of patent-based indexes and securities which provide IP benchmarks – called the Ocean Tomo 300 Patent Value Index. Additionally, they have started the first IP Auction which has created a limited marketplace for facilitating the exchange of intellectual property.

Still the problem exists as to how to capture and track all the relevant information on an asset so that its value is maximized. The combination of a total view of an IP estate with royalty rates and valuation methodologies will provide CFO’s with a tool to continuously monitor and value their IP portfolio – as well as to mange it on a day to day basis.

CFOs who do not take an active role in the management of their IP assets are not only putting their companies at risk for a shareholder lawsuit for the mismanagement of their assets, but also are not even meeting the basic requirements of their positions – to accurately report the value of the company (and its assets) and to maximize the value of the company’s assets. The market will, and has, found ways to value IP assets. CFOs now need to take control of this process.

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