Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Aligning IP Strategy and Business Strategy

In previous posts we’ve discussed the importance of IP and that business strategy is closely intertwined with IP strategy -- whether most companies realize it or not. (We’ve also written a white paper on the subject.) In this post, I thought I’d discuss a couple of examples in which a good IP Management System can help companies deal with real world business-level issues.

IP is important because it accounts for somewhere between 70%-85% of the value of corporations (depending on which report you read). And the value of an intellectual property asset is determined by its relationship to other things, such as its relationship to products, other IP, people and agreements. For example, a patent may have more value if it enables a key aspect of a product of the assignee or of another company. Similarly, the patent’s value can in part be derived from the licensing agreements to which it is related.

So... the value of a company is derived from the value of its intellectual property. And the value of intellectual property derived from the relationships it has with other things. Therefore, the management of intellectual property should include the management those relationships as well.

This makes sense in theory, but let’s test it on a couple of scenarios:

Mergers & Acquisitions
The value and importance of intellectual property assets are playing a greater role than ever before in terms of assets received through mergers, acquisitions and takeovers. These valuable assets include patents, trademarks, copyrights, know-how, trade secrets and domain names.

In the course of M&A due diligence, the acquiring party must not only assess the inventory of intellectual property included in the transaction, but to properly value the portfolio, they must also consider the network of relationships surrounding the IP portfolio. For example, the acquiring company must also evaluate the contracts & agreements that could affect their ownership or rights to the core IP assets. (There is an article on the WIPO site (PDF) that explains this in greater detail.)

M&A deals can completely fall apart and shareholder value can be lost due to mis-management of an IP portfolio. A round-table transcript (PDF) in Mergers & Acquisitions Magazine actually mentions a situation in which the acquirer backed out of a transaction because the target’s IP portfolio did not have coverage where they thought it did -- the acquirer would have effectively been excluded from a number of international markets due to a lack of related international patents in the patent family. To put it another way, it was not just the inventory of assets that was important to the M&A transaction, but the relationships the assets had or did not have with other things. As you can imagine, this would have a significant negative impact on the relative value of the IP portfolio in question.

It is not the issues of docketing and cost management that define IP management, rather it is the alignment of IP strategy and business strategy. This alignment is achieved by understanding and managing the network of relationships that surround the IP portfolio.

Product Launches
We frequently hear that IP Departments are looking for ways to become more strategic to the business units of their respective companies. As such, they are looking for ways to add value to important business events such as new product launches.

Product launches are one of those events that require many different business functions to come together and operate cohesively, if only for a brief period of time. In the context of intellectual property, there are the obvious considerations such as patent protection and freedom to operate in the new markets. But there are also a number ancillary IP issues that may be less obvious.

For example, there are a number of contracts and agreements that need to be in place to execute a successful launch. These include agreements for distribution, sales & marketing, service & support and others. Each of these items need to be coordinated and require collaboration between legal, marketing, business and the local teams.

Again, it is not simply the management of intellectual property in the traditional sense that ensures a successful product launch. Rather, the coordination of a number of IP assets (patents, trademarks, products) and their related contractual obligations (distribution agreements, licensing agreements, etc) that determine how well IP is aligned with the business strategy.

If not properly in place, any one of these related pieces can lead to adverse business results. A poorly executed freedom to operate analysis can result in costly legal battles. Similarly, an missing or poorly written distribution agreement can lead to unnecessary expense or lost revenue to the company.

As mentioned previously: It is not the issues of docketing and cost management that define IP management, rather it is the alignment of IP strategy and business strategy. This alignment is achieved by understanding and managing the network of relationships that surround the IP portfolio.

There are other scenarios that would make good illustrative examples of the importance of managing the network of relationships around the IP portfolio. They include competitive intelligence, trademark licensing, joint ventures and others. Perhaps we'll cover some of these in future posts.

About Us
At Innovation Asset Group, we often use the concept of an IP Value Chain to illustrate the nature and importance of the relationships described in this post. We believe an IP Management System should be flexible enough to accommodate the different use-case scenarios described here. More importantly, it should be flexible enough to deal with new challenges that may arise in the future. For example, ask us about automatically analyzing your entire patent portfolio to ensure compliance with the 5/25 rules. (If they ever take effect!)

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