Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Business Strategy IS Intellectual Property Strategy

by Ron Carson
Regional Sales Director
Innovation Asset Group, Inc.

IP assets are increasingly recognized as key business assets. The management of IP assets is no longer a discretionary function, nor solely the domain of the legal department. It has become a pillar of corporate strategy. If you are reading this, you probably already know that IP is important.

A lot has been written about both business strategy and IP strategy. In the case of business strategy there are a multitude of models, formulas and approaches that provide a framework to assist in development of the strategy. In contrast, it seems to me, most writings about IP strategy deal with why it is important, but there is little written about how to go about developing or implementing such a strategy. In fact, most writing seems to position IP strategy as a separate concept that must be aligned with a pre-existing business strategy. In my opinion business strategy and IP strategy are at the very least deeply intertwined, if not two sides of the same coin.

According to a number of recent reports by PWC and others:
• Approximately 90% of worldwide corporate net worth can be attributed to intangibles and intellectual property.
• Over 80% of executives believe the importance of intellectual capital to the value of their companies will increase over the next 3-5 years.

• Almost 70% of executives believe IP management is too often treated as a legal, not a strategic issue.
• Over 60% of executives believe current accounting practices understate the value of IP.
• Over 80% of royalty agreements are under reported.
• Over 60% of executives believe their companies could extract significantly more value from existing IP and IP formation if it devoted more assets and attention to relevant processes.

• Over 70% of executives believe a focus on short-term results inhibits the development of sophisticated processes for managing IP.
• Intellectual property is inherently more complex than tangible assets.
• Most business executives would rather not have to read the claims of a patent, let alone the claims of an entire portfolio.
• It is easier to continue to have the legal department manage these assets. (In my opinion, this is why we are seeing the legal function around IP become elevated to a more strategic position in companies, just as we have seen with IT departments in the past 10-15 years. You can read a related post about Chief IP Counsels and Chief IP Officers here.)

IP Strategy can be approached in much the same way as business strategy. In some respects, they are the same.

I think part of the challenge executives have is the concept of mapping their IP strategy with their business strategy. IP strategy is simply a component of a business strategy. In fact, I think you could take a model such as the Balanced Scorecard or the Five Forces and insert an additional component for Intellectual Property.

In developing a business strategy, there are some common things to consider that apply equally well to the realm of intellectual property. Generally speaking, you want to consider the needs of your customer, the nature of the competition and your own capabilities. (For the sake of simplicity, I’ll leave market sizing and some other topics out of this post.)

Eventually, the value of the IP a company hopes to control is derived from the needs of the market. Just as a business strategy must consider the needs of customers in various segments, so too must IP strategy consider the needs of customers. Understanding these needs will drive product requirements, R&D priorities and eventually help prioritize patents to be acquired, licensed, applications to be filed or even trade secrets to be protected.

In business strategy, a company cannot chart its course without understanding its competition in terms of strengths, weaknesses, distribution strategies, pricing strategies, etc. In the IP realm, companies can look at the profile of their competitors to understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of their IP portfolios, strategies and technological directions. With this information in hand, a company can patent or acquire rights to technologies to strengthen their own competitive position.

In business strategy, a company looks at its relative areas of expertise. What does it do better than other companies, how does it differentiate itself? Similarly in IP strategy, a company must consider its portfolio -- what does it have, and what does it need to add? On the business side, a company has to make the build vs. buy decision. In IP, a company looks out across the IP landscape with an understanding of the market requirements, competitive implications, and determines if it should invent (make) or acquire (buy) the necessary components to round out the portfolio.

Understanding what the market needs, the competition and your own capabilities are key elements of both business and IP strategy. With this information in hand, you can intelligently plot your course forward with all appropriate milestones and metrics.

Stay tuned for next-in-series posts that will get deeper into the ‘how’ does one go about this – at each stage of the IP Value Chain and at varying levels of IP sophistication. And please…feel free to add your insights.

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