In 1997, when I was given my first intellectual property speaking gig with The Executive Connection (TEC), the group’s chairman had to work the phones to get people to attend my session. Not a single person wanted to be there, but I didn’t take it personally – not because I have a rock solid ego but because IP suffers from a serious PR problem.
Let’s face it: Innovation is sexy – say start-up and some people lose their minds and start throwing money at kids wearing jeans and t-shirts. Inventing is, well, we’ve got to have it; inventions save people, make life better, shape our society, etc. And then there are brands, which can inspire a slavish following, are the showpony front man for trillions of dollars of global annual turn-over, and are sneakily showcased in feature films. In fact, an entire movie was devoted to some of the world’s most ubiquitous brands.
Intellectual property – yawn… It has to be the un-sexiest term in business, and the most misunderstood.
But a funny thing happened at my first session’s morning tea break – these same people, who really would have rather had their dentist perform a root canal treatment, leapt up from their seats and were suddenly phoning their offices and getting key people on the line. I looked around the venue and standing in each corner, or dotted at major ‘personal space’ intervals, were CEOs having hushed, urgent conversations. Over the last 18 years that I have been providing IP training, I have witnessed this at almost every session.
So, what did I say that made these fairly serious business people head to their phones, instead of the delicious buffet of muffins, tea and coffee? I pointed out the top mistakes most business leaders make and allow others to make in their business:
- We paid for the IP, so we own it. This is number one for a reason – I still run into this myth nearly 20 years later. So much of the IP that your business is likely to commission from a third party is of the copyright variety, including audio, video, written material of all kinds, databases, and software, but also technical plans, and other 2D designs. The reason why this is a top mistake is because in most cases, unless there is a legal agreement to the contrary, the ‘author’ of the ‘work’ is the owner and has the right to transfer it, license it and otherwise assert their rights in it (Copyright Act 1968). Simply paying the invoice for the work, does not make you the owner (in most cases). This makes it absolutely critical that you use the right legal agreement from the outset when commissioning anything out-of-house. (Also read about ‘dirty’ IP here.)
- We have a business name, so we have a trade mark. Nope. A business name is a requirement for you to conduct business in your state or territory. It is not a trade mark, nor does it provide any express rights for you to assert ownership or control. Having said this, should you discover another party using the same name, your lawyer could potentially scrape together a civil suit, but it would be an expensive headache. Instead, your IP professional could search the trade marks register to ensure your business name is available to be protected, file an application, and ultimately secure trade mark registration. Once you have a registered trade mark, you have a federally granted monopoly giving you the right to stop others from unauthorised use, and you can transfer it, sell it, license it and so on. Underpinning 100% of the major brands that swirl around our lives, including LinkedIn, Lego, Sony, Apple, YouTube, etc, are registered trade marks, which are often protected in dozens of countries across dozens of goods and service categories (referred to as ‘classes’).
- We don’t own much IP. My rule of thumb is that most businesses have 90% more intellectual property than they realise. Once you conduct an IP audit and take stock of it all, you will be amazed at how many IP assets (and hassles) your business has. The fact is you cannot protect, manage, or fully exploit what you don’t know you own. And without this knowledge, you have no idea how valuable, or potentially compromised, your business really is.
- In-house IP knowledge is a luxury we can’t afford. The fact is, IP underpins your entire business – it is basically everything your business is outputting (products, services, marketing material, website, your branding, etc), and much of the infrastructure that supports your enterprise internally (bespoke software, templates, databases, confidential information, manuals). IP knowledge is vital to ensure your valuable and vulnerable IP is identified, protected, commissioned safely, managed thoughtfully, and someone can work closely with your external IP professionals, such as trade mark and patent attorneys. The question is: can you afford not to have in-house IP knowledge?
If you are interested in intellectual property training for you and your team, click here for two 60 minute online IP training modules based on the half day learning program I have presented to over 1,200 Australian and New Zealand CEOs, directors, business owners, and top executives since 1997.
The more you understand intellectual property, the more valuable your business becomes.