Managing the Intellectual Property Assets of Your SME
Managing an enterprise's IP assets is more than just acquiring the formal IP rights through the national IP office. Patent or trademark rights are not worth much unless they are adequately exploited. Moreover, part of a company's valuable IP may not require formal registration but may call for other measures of protection (e.g. confidentiality agreements). Enterprises willing to extract full value from their know-how and creativity should take adequate steps to develop an IP strategy for their business and seek to integrate it within their overall business strategy. This implies including IP considerations when drafting business plans and marketing strategies. A basic IP strategy would include at least the following:
A single product or service may be protected by various forms of IP rights covering different aspects of that product or service. SMEs must consider the best protection package and make sure that all the formal rights are acquired as early as possible (see "How can Your SME Acquire and Maintain Intellectual Property Protection?"). SMEs should also bear in mind that creating a comprehensive IP portfolio may be a considerable investment. This is particularly the case for patents. SMEs must therefore carefully assess the costs and benefits of patenting on a case by case basis and develop a strategy/policy on patent acquisitions which is appropriate given their budget and market opportunities (for an overview of patent strategies see WIPO/IPR/MCT/99/5.A [PDF].
IP assets may be exploited in a variety of ways. These may include the commercialization of IP-protected products and services; the entering into licensing or franchising agreements; the sale of IP assets to other firms; the creation of joint ventures; the use of IP to obtain access to other companies' technology through cross-licensing agreements; or the use of IP to obtain business finance. Enterprises should decide in each case how they may best exploit their IP assets both domestically and internationally.
Consulting patent and trademark databases regularly is important in order to find out about recent technical developments and new technologies, identify new licensing partners or suppliers, new market opportunities, monitor activities of competitors, identify possible infringers, and avoid infringing competitors' rights. See also "Using Patent Information for the Benefit of Your SME" and "Conducting Trademark Searches."
A clear policy on IP enforcement is crucial due to the losses that may be incurred by the existence of counterfeited goods in the market and the high costs involved in some IP disputes. See "What Should Your SME do to Resolve Disputes Related to Intellectual Property?"
A description of how different companies with different levels of technological capacity may develop an IP strategy to suit their own needs is contained in a WIPO paper on "The Management of Intellectual Property Rights by Small and Medium Sized Enterprises" (see WIPO/ACAD/E/93/12 available in PDF).