“Corporate knowledge” is a term that is readily bandied about modern workplaces, but is often not fully understood. It can also take differing meanings depending on the industry where it is used.
From an intellectual property and technology lawyer’s perspective, one way of looking at corporate knowledge could be as a detailed understanding at the management level of the source and direction of the innovations and technology that underpin a company.
Corporate knowledge is also concerned with ensuring that these potentially invaluable aspects of the business are both properly protected in a strategic and cost-effective manner, and commercialized to the fullest extent possible.
During the early stages of a company, founders are often required to wear several hats and handle responsibility for multiple competing priorities. As a result, certain legal and administrative tasks can be overlooked in favour of the more immediate day-to-day challenges that arise in getting a new business off the ground.
However, certain tasks that can appear to be a low priority, too expensive or better suited to outsourcing to third-party service providers can have a drastic impact on the long-term direction and success of a company. A strategy must be properly set out and fully understood by company management from the outset.
One such area where this becomes paramount is the development, protection and commercialization of a company’s core technology and related intellectual property portfolio.
Questions like the following should be considered:
- Is the board fully aware of the developments the technical team is working on and what stage these developments are at?
- Are the appropriate agreements in place with members of the technical team?
- Have go-to-market strategies been developed for the most promising technologies?
- Has a business case been made for new areas of research?
- Are the required patents in place for the technology that underpins the core business?
- Alternatively, is a patent portfolio being obtained and maintained for technology that the company has otherwise moved on from?
- Does the company own patents or other IP rights that could be leveraged in another space?
If a company can’t answer these questions relatively quickly and with some degree of assurance, there is an argument to be made that its level of corporate knowledge with respect to technological developments and intellectual property is lacking and needs to be addressed.
But what’s the best way to go about this?
The first part of this equation is to identify a senior member of the team who will be tasked with the development and management of the intellectual property portfolio. In plain terms, it will be this individual’s mandate to ensure that the great work being undertaken by the technical team is identified at an early stage and evaluated for legal protection and commercialization as soon as possible.
This will keep the company’s resources and talent focused on projects that have a strong chance of making it to market in the near and medium term. This individual can keep the board informed of all strategies that are in place and ensure the technical team understands the importance of fully identifying and carefully documenting exciting areas of development that hold promise for future business goals.
The second part of the equation is to work with an appropriate legal professional who understands the company’s business goals and technology, and who develops a great working relationship with the IP counterpart within the company. Are you a cautious and notably risk-averse organization requiring particularly conservative legal advice? Is your technology highly specialized, which requires considerable subject-matter expertise to master?
Ensure that the legal professional you are working with possesses not only the requisite legal and technical skills, but also the personality to guarantee a great fit with the organization. Good working relationships tend to result in better quality work performed in a timely manner for lower costs – an enviable trifecta.
An old parable illustrates this idea succinctly: teaching someone to fish is more valuable than providing someone with fish. In the competitive modern economy, this ancient wisdom remains just as pertinent.
A company that takes the initiative to internally educate its team and directly participates in development of an overarching strategy for its technology and intellectual property portfolio will reap the rewards of a focused approach. This will then ensure commercially valuable results on a reasonable budget.
Adam Tracey is an associate lawyer at Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP and a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property Group.
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