Businesses and organisations are likely to be familiar with intellectual property; namely rights that exist in patents, trademarks, copyright, and designs. Many will also possess a vast array of other, less obvious, intellectual assets including methods, processes, knowledge, data, and information, all of which will have some inherent value or benefit.
By taking a holistic approach, an organisation is likely to find rewarding opportunities to exploit and develop their intellectual assets further. Examples include gaining an advantage over competitors, improving productivity, the development of new products or services and generating new commercial opportunities. Practically, the strategy should be fully integrated into an organisation’s processes and culture to ensure that intellectual assets, and their opportunities, are not missed.
From a legal perspective, the implementation of a holistic strategy requires a different focus at each stage.
The ‘protection’ stage should be an ongoing exercise, focusing on keeping intellectual assets secret and restricting unauthorised third parties from accessing them.
Organisations are advised to only share essential information and ensure that both internal and external arrangements are documented on a contractual footing.
They should also seek to register potentially valuable intellectual assets whenever possible.
The ‘development’ stage involves turning such intellectual assets, and their opportunities, into reality. Organisations should focus on ensuring that the applicable intellectual assets remain available and identify where third-party collaboration is required. Often this results in sophisticated agreements between partners, which focuses on a particular deliverable or outcome and seeks to ensure that each party’s legal and commercial position is protected.
Finally, the ‘exploitation’ stage deals with the realisation of the intellectual asset and its potential. Commonly, exploitation is associated with revenue generation and that is often the case when a new product or service is taken to market. Depending on the circumstances, it may be more appropriate to seek licensing or disposal opportunities instead. The exploitation of intellectual assets can also have a much broader positive impact across an organisation. For example, a benefit may derive from the differentiation achieved over competitors, or by enabling the recruitment of new talent for future growth and opportunity.
Whatever the objectives and outcomes, most organisations will gain some form of benefit from adopting a holistic approach to the management of their inherent intellectual assets.