Every organisation has a reason for being. It might be a unique ability to offer a particular product or service, or it might arise from having been in the right place at the right time with a certain set of capabilities. But at its core, your organisation probably relies on intellectual property (IP) far more than you imagine. Intellectual property is just another way of describing valuable knowledge – knowledge about the way that you do business, knowledge about the way that you make your products, your business processes, even your customer lists. How would it affect your business if your closest competitor knew precisely how you carry out your business and had access to your internal operating procedures and customer lists? The knowledge that you have – and your competitor does not – is a source of competitive advantage and is likely to be a key factor in your success. That knowledge is frequently the difference between organisations that succeed and those that fail. Physical assets and traditional sources of competitive advantage such as manufacturing capability or location have far less relevance. The value of many of the world’s largest companies is increasingly vested in knowledge-based, intangible assets.
An economy based on these assets is often known as the ‘weightless economy’. Some organisations recognise that innovation plays a role not just in product development but in every part of the organisation and institute formal processes to think about the generation and capture of knowledge wherever work is performed. They address each part of the business in terms of what is best practice and make commercial buy versus build decisions based on their particular corporate needs. Given the increasing economic relevance of knowledge, it is imperative to focus on the identification of that knowledge, its value and its management. Most people have some concept of what an ‘invention’ is, but the management of knowledge or intellectual property is far more than the patenting of inventions. It is an understanding of what intellectual property is, when intellectual property has been created, the value of the created knowledge, and of how to protect intellectual property that has value. It is the use of systematic processes to understand the intellectual property of others and to generate your own.
This last point is a critical one. Many young organisations are surprised to find how much has been ‘done before’ – usually so much that it is difficult to make a product without relying on previous work. Much of that work is protected and may not be used legally without obtaining a licence from the owner. However, knowledge of what has been done before can also refine a view of where your competitive advantage may come from and what your competitors are doing. It can provide substantial commercial opportunities. By licensing the knowledge of others and collaborating with them you can focus on your core competencies and make your investments go much further. It is preferable to be aware of the IP landscape and your competitors before investing significant resources in the development of new products.
So, how do you identify and manage intellectual property? This manual is designed to help. It provides guidance for those that are seeking to implement best practice in intellectual property management and capture value as a result. It provides reference material and information relevant to all types of organisation. It recognises that individuals in different parts of an organisation have different roles in the protection and management of knowledge – but that at the core it is a responsibility for everyone. IP is a valuable strategic and financial asset for every organisation. Like any other resource, IP should be carefully managed. Without appropriate management, the organisation may be unaware of its IP, its value or benefits, or may expose itself to unnecessary risks.
The management of IP is an ongoing task which lasts throughout the life of the IP, until expiry. The diagram below illustrates the life cycle of an IP asset, and the decision points you may need to consider at each stage of its life for the effective management of your IP. This Manual provides guidance in the following Chapters on the management of IP throughout this life cycle and for each of these decisions points, including providing information on the nature of the different forms of IP.