By Jern Ern Chuah, an EO Malaysia member and CEO of Advanz Fidelis
It still amazes me how far intellectual property (IP) has come in the past few years. I remember when working in the IP industry was about as unsexy a career as it gets. Nowadays, people seem to know a bit more about IP and its importance in the global, hyper-competitive markets in which we now operate. And yet, that newfound knowledge has given rise to a number of myths. Here are some clarifying points:
What is IP?
IP refers to creations of the mind that have commercial value and can receive legal protection. This can encompass creative works, products and processes, source identifiers, secrets and other products of intellect. Because of the “legal protection” bit, a lot of people think that IP is a legal matter best left to the lawyers, which is the greatest IP myth of all time.
IP is about Business, Not the Law
IP exists to serve and protect your business. IP issues should be discussed as a business concern, and have a place in the boardroom as strategic, and sometimes tactical, considerations. Thus, it is a mistake to simply park IP in the legal or finance department without giving it any further thought. IP lets you differentiate your business from that of your competition. Your competitor has no access to your IP without your permission. This affords you the ability to freely operate, as well as price your goods and services at a premium; it gives you a real business advantage.
Exclusivity through Uniqueness™
If you only had five seconds to teach someone about IP, “exclusivity through uniqueness” would be my preferred sound bite (so much so that we applied to trademark it!). This saying sums up the entire IP concept. You can only get IP if you’ve come up with something unique, be it an invention, a brand, a new song, a recipe, whatever. The single, central premise running through the various types of IP is exclusivity. IP arises when you have something unique and you get exclusive rights to it. A smart entrepreneur should take advantage of that.
The Absent IP
In the 17 years I have been in this field, I have never come across a business without IP. It’s not that you don’t have IP in your business; you just may not have recognized it. There are plenty of resources online to help you recognize the different kinds of IP that exist. Once you can differentiate one form from another, you can look for it in your business and see how to leverage it for greater advantage. In brief, anything you have worth protecting is likely to contain some form or another of IP.
The Fatal Misconception
The most dangerous myth of all is the belief that owning IP is all you have to do, and that ownership alone equates to your own cave of riches. Time and again, I have met entrepreneurs who are disillusioned with IP. I ask what they have done with their IP, and I always get a puzzled look in response. “I own it, what more do I have to do?” they say. The fact is, it’s not what you own that’s key, it’s how you put it to use in your business. IP is an asset, like any other, and it has to be used in your business. Like all assets, it can depreciate in value and quality, and if you don’t use it to support your business, it will never give you proper returns.