The technology change curve continues to steepen, with an increasing number of entrepreneurs developing innovative processes, services and products. When you create and drive growth on a global basis, it’s imperative that you capture and protect your intellectual property (IP). In fact, how well you protect your intellectual property could ultimately be a major key to success.
So why do so many entrepreneurs fail to adequately protect the results of their creativity? It’s simple: Sometimes we forget to protect the intangible because we are so busy producing the tangible (the products or services we provide).
If you’re asking yourself, “How valuable can protecting IP really be?” consider this: Protecting your IP basically provides you with a type of market monopoly to make, sell, use, import, export and license your property.
Said another way, if your IP has value in the marketplace, then the monopoly IP protection provides will have a similar value times the length of the monopoly.
Your intellectual property may be protected in a number of ways, depending on its nature.
1. Trade Secrets Are Your Competitive Advantages
Knowledge-based competitive advantages like trade secrets are best protected by documents such as confidentiality agreements and employee contracts. In the food industry, secret ingredients such as spices and herbs would be covered under a trade secret.
2. Patents Protect Your Concepts + Functions
If the advantage of your product is its function, the best way to protect it is with a patent or design registration. Patents can protect concepts, including software and business plans. The distilling process for a beverage could also be covered by a patent.
3. Trademarks Allow You to Own Your Brand
If the look of the product is your advantage, you should get a design registration that protects shapes and patterns. Brands, including words, shapes, sounds, logos and colors, can be protected with a trademark.
A special embossing on a surface would be covered by a design registration; the shape of a product, if unique and distinctive, could be protected by a trademark. Keep in mind that patent and design registrations can only be obtained for products that are not in the public domain, so a confidentiality agreement may be needed first.
IBM, an international leader in patent creation, has a powerful strategy that can be adopted by any size organization. IBM routinely reviews its unused patents and licenses them to other companies — including their competitors. In IBM’s case, this strategy added about $1 billion to their bottom line. Your organization does not have to be large like IBM’s to profit from this strategy.
Dell and other companies of different sizes have successfully cross-licensed their patents to create new income streams. In Dell’s case, it cross-licensed its built-to-order process to IBM for $16 billion. As with the IBM example, and now the Dell example above, much smaller companies, including entrepreneurships, can adopt a cross-licensing strategy like this to accelerate growth. Your protected IP can also be marketed in a similar way to either a complementary market or an entirely different industry.
A key to success is to develop an IP strategy based on your long-term objectives. Consider your competitive advantages, business strategies, existing IP, third-party relationships, internal resources and exit strategies.
Stealing the credit card numbers of customers was only the beginning of cybercrime. Regardless of the size of your organization, you should anticipate cyber criminals will try to steal your proprietary information, the information that is not protected in the ways I described above, but is key to your future success. Make sure that you have secure backups of everything that is critical to you, and that you have taken proactive measures to prevent attacks.
Use the tenets found in my new bestseller, “The Anticipatory Organization: Turn Disruption and Change Into Opportunity and Advantage,” to help guide you to create the game-changing innovations that will be in high demand in the future.
The opportunity to both create and protect IP has never been greater. The time to start is today.
Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading futurists on global trends and innovation. The New York Times has referred to him as one of the top three business gurus in the highest demand as a speaker. He is a strategic advisor to executives from Fortune 500 companies, helping them to accelerate innovation and results by develop game-changing strategies based on his proven methodologies for capitalizing on technology innovations and their future impact. His client list includes companies such as Microsoft, GE, American Express, Google, Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, Honda, and IBM. He is the author of seven books, including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller Flash Foresight, and his latest book The Anticipatory Organization. He is a featured writer with millions of monthly readers on the topics of innovation, change and the future and has appeared in Harvard Business Review, Wired, CNBC, and Huffington Post to name a few. He has been the featured subject of several PBS television specials and has appeared on programs such as CNN, Fox Business, and Bloomberg, and is quoted in a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Fortune, and Forbes. He has founded six businesses, four of which were national leaders in the United States in the first year. He is the CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients profit from technological, social and business forces that are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. In 1983 he became the first and only futurist to accurately identify the twenty technologies that would become the driving force of business and economic change for decades to come. He also linked exponential computing advances to economic value creation. His specialties are technology-driven trends, strategic innovation, strategic advising and planning, business keynote presentations.