Every hour of the business week it seems a new start-up tumbles onto the scene and it’s hard to not to feel a sense of wonder at what they might accomplish. If you peek behind their brand new websites and earnest manifestos written with sweat and tears, you can sense the potential they have to change the world, or at least their industry.
Meanwhile, the silverback gorillas of the business world – the established company – is often highly aware of the threat these disruptors pose to the status quo. In fact, the notion of a status quo these days seems naive; anything is up for grabs. So today’s older business, which really is just say, seven years and older, is now actively seeking ways to be ‘nimble’, to innovate, to be its own worst competitor and see what magic opportunities this might reveal.
But regardless of any business or organisation’s place in the life cycle, they all share the same foundation and future goal: valuable intellectual property.
It is the intellectual property that the consumer and the world experiences from the outside, i.e. the new product and services, as well as the clever new brands and logos that front them. It is the IP that is only visible to those who govern and work in the enterprise – the bespoke software, systems, confidential information, trade secrets, marketing collateral, business plans, etc. – that supports the creation and sale of the new products and services, as well as the sheer business of doing business.
But funnily enough, despite the fact that young companies pride themselves on shaking things up, they typically make the same mistake older companies make when it comes to IP.
Think about it…
Every business has an employee or staff focused on the money – money in (sales, investment, capitalisation, and so on) and money out (purchasing, overhead, tax, etc).
Every business has staff focused on operations, marketing, and sales. Every business has someone focused on people, on human resources. And of course, product-based businesses have staff focused on creating new products (think ‘new IP’).
Every enterprise has someone to govern it: management, executives, founders, directors, a board. In reality, regardless of how new and innovative a business is, the actual organisational framework is stunningly similar. An org chart is a fairly scaleable beast to size, to plans and to developmental stage.
So who has everyone forgotten?
Well, remember the IP that all of these businesses are built on and madly racing to create every day? They forgot the ‘IP officer’. It is this role that is tasked with ensuring valuable and vulnerable intellectual property assets are identified, protected, managed, and monitored. Unless the business has in-house counsel, the IP officer liaises with but does not replace external IP professionals, such as trademark and patent attorneys, and IP lawyers.
The person in this role ensures IP is on the agenda, literally for the board, and for the CEO and her or his management team, and figuratively by helping to create a intellectual property culture. They make sure key people in the business have IP training and the IP policy is in place, understood and acknowledged. They ensure third party IP is commissioned for ownership, and clear title doesn’t slip through the business’ hands.
The IP officer should also order a benchmark IP audit to identify previously undiscovered assets and issues, and ensure various registers (trademarks, copyright, trade secrets, patents, designs) are established and then kept as live documents. There’s nothing less relevant than a dusty IP register.
Other than in-house counsel, if the business has a compliance role it’s half way there because it is easy enough to get that person trained in IP fundamentals. But if there is no such role, then generally an operational manager of some sort should be tapped on the shoulder and given the IP Sheriff badge.
If your business does not currently have an IP officer, it is time to nominate the right existing position and get that person trained and focused on what is perhaps one of the most important roles the company should have.
Unfortunately, not establishing the IP officer role means IP risks (present and future) can multiply and blow out dangerously. The implications can vary from loss of opportunity and business value to expensive and crippling litigation, even bankruptcy.
So regardless of your business’ age, it is vital to give intellectual property the prominence it deserves by appointing an IP officer – and ASAP!
If you are interested in a convenient, inexpensive but powerful online IP training course, please click here.