Intellectual property can get complex fast.
On any given day, dozens of inventors will search ‘how to get a patent’ only to find themselves submerged in a paralyzing deluge of variables. Young intrepid engineers may suddenly find themselves funded and in need of readying R&D teams to develop IP. A budding enterprise realizes their ad hoc IP strategy is obstructing scale goals and an overhaul is required. They all frustratingly end up asking the same question- where do I start?
Like so many aspects of business, culture is the foundation. And since innovation is by nature always evolving, competitive advantages are only sustainable if such creativity and innovation are supported and nurtured and permeate through the entire company. An innovation minded culture means ensuring all employees respect and protect the company IP and understand how to use third party IP. Fostering that culture can be broken down to awareness, prevention, and incentives.
IP awareness starts at employee onboarding with ongoing training. Haven’t started yet? The second-best time is now. Nobody is going to respect the company IP if they don’t know what it is! Training should involve not just basics of IP but also the risks of mishandling it or inadvertently losing it. Employees should be reminded of company IP policies and processes in clear and simple terms, with best practices. All inventors should know what to do when there is potential innovation in the works, which ideally includes a centrally accessible disclosure form for quick submission and recording of ideas at even the earliest of stages.
While encouraging IP generation is usually the biggest priority, one must never lose sight of the importance of preventing IP loss. Policies must be established that stress the importance of security, like cleaning whiteboards after meetings, for example. Equipping your teams with VPNs and storing sensitive information on secure servers shows the company commitment to the cause. With an increase of work from home and use of public spaces for work, added encryption may be warranted. Explain in quantifiable terms the possible risks of losing company IP. A little paranoia is ok here, sometimes the aliens really are after you.
A great way to emphasize the importance of innovation is with incentives. These need not be monetary and are often awarded at milestones like a submitted disclosure form developing into a patent application or that application becoming a granted patent. It could be plaques, coins, jackets, paid time off, charitable donations, recognition at the next all-staff meeting or whatever fits your company and its values. These gestures tend to yield more motivated teams, and the odd healthy competition can snowball further creativity.
So, while IP can be complex, it doesn’t have to start that way. Implementing these pieces as part of your overall company culture will ensure respectful use of current IP while ensuring the development and protection of IP for the company’s next generation.
ABOUT JORDAN: Jordan is the vice-president at Stratford Intellectual Property (a division of Stratford Group), specializing in IP operations and M&A due diligence. He has overseen the IP component of several M&A and fundraising transactions valued between $10M-500M. A native of Ottawa for 34 years, Jordan now lives in San Diego, CA with his wife and infant daughter.