Being strategic with your intellectual property (IP) can be really important. But what is often even more important, especially for businesses built on ongoing innovation, is having a strong IP programme.
Resting on your laurels with IP strategy and not having an IP programme may result in missed opportunities and increased business risk.
Let’s take New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks®, as an example. There is no doubt that the All Blacks® are successful because of their on and off-field strategies, achieving the moniker of the world’s most successful sports team by virtue of an enviable winning percentage. But the All Blacks® also have a very strong and ongoing programme to help reach their goal as the world’s best rugby team.
A professional sports team’s goal is to win matches. Winning one match often requires a different strategy from winning the next match. For each match, teams must consider and adjust offensive and defensive strategies, tactics and plans dependent on who they are playing, weather, injuries, and venue etc.
Professional sports teams hence underpin their long and short-term goals and the strategies used to get there, with a well-designed programme. Their programme is designed to identify new talent at the start and to grow the talent with physical and skills training, education and good mental health. Their programme ensures a strong team culture is maintained that encourages collaboration and information sharing. Their programme helps achieve peak performance through diet and wellbeing to give the team the best chance at successfully achieving their goals.
It’s is often a team’s “programme for success” that is the envy of other teams and that other teams try to model themselves on.
Like the All Blacks®, whose goal is to consistently win rugby matches at the highest level, innovative businesses that consistently produce and commercialise innovations require a well-implemented IP programme supported by processes that contribute to the programme. Without a well-designed IP programme and its processes, the best intended strategies can fail.
THE OBJECTIVES OF AN IP PROGRAMME ARE TO:
1) Help maximise value from the products and innovations created,
2) Reduce business risk by reducing the prospect of infringing the IP of others, and
3) Help ensure that IP strategies and tactics are appropriately and cost effectively deployed.
Implementation is as critical to success as the programme itself. A successful IP programme requires several must-have factors:
1. Visible and meaningful support from the top
I believe that this is critical. The work I have done with Air New Zealand, building an IP culture and programme, had full and visible support from the then CEO, Rob Fyfe. It was headlined by a one-page IP policy signed by Rob. Most well-intended IP culture builds that I have been involved with that have failed, have not had this clear and visible support from the top.
2. Credible and easy to follow process or processes
There needs to be a process to capture valuable ideas shortly after they germinate and before they sprout into the public domain. This is no different to side-line talent scouts finding their next sports star. Without timely capture occurring, valuable ideas may be missed or may evolve to a point were some IP protection measures are not available. Or worse, the ideas may end up in the hands of the competition.
3. Defined roles and responsibilities
As an example, an IP champion can help drive the IP programme and its processes. They can ensure there is regular IP education happening to help keep the IP culture alive.
4. IP education
Idea generators and decision makers within the business need to know how IP rights can help a business and that IP infringement can be very detrimental to the business. They also need to know when to raise the red flag for IP champions, in-house IP managers or external advisors to then assist.
5. Other factors
Include sufficient and appropriate resources, effective communication, ensuring that performance is tracked so that the business learns from its IP successes and mistakes, and regular review of the programme itself.
It is important that the processes to support an IP programme are simple to follow. This will ensure that they get used and not put into the ‘too hard basket’. Many businesses follow a structured idea development process that may look like this:
IP processes can be designed that conveniently attach to each stage in a way that helps ensure the correct IP decisions are taken throughout the product design process. Informed decisions about brand selection and protection, patents, trade secrets, copyright and other IP right related decisions can therefore be made at each stage.
For example, at the ideation stage, questions should be raised to ensure that clean IP is getting generated. ‘Dirty IP’ can be created when trade secrets or confidential information belonging to others get used (wittingly or unwittingly) in a new innovation. These are often not discovered until after product launch. Dirty IP can be fatal to a business.
One of my clients was concerned enough about this to set up a ‘clean room’ for a new software development project. They hired a new software team, located in a different building, who were not familiar with the old software that my client had built for an earlier customer and were still providing software support for.
The IP programme and processes they had in place, ensured that a clean room approach was just one of many strategies they used to achieve a successful outcome.
Whilst it may sound like semantics, a well-designed IP programme and process must not be overlooked when you are wanting to be strategic with IP.