Many companies equate intellectual property with patents, partly because of the focus that some types of investors place on patents, but this is only part of the story. In reality there are three main types of intellectual property:
registered rights, which include patents, trademarks, design rights and copyrights (which need to be registered with regulatory bodies);
un-registered rights, including trade secrets, know-how, algorithms, and specialised customer knowledge which can often be more valuable than registered rights;
‘open’ rights which can be complicated to deal with but typically include open source code, licensing of content under ‘creative commons’ rules, and fair use rights which may supervised by non-regulatory agencies.
In general, all Intellectual Property Rights can be bought, sold or licensed, which means that it is important to be aware of their commercial value. But the first step in doing this is to understand the value of any piece of intellectual property. This wider definition of intellectual property leads directly to the need to appreciate the relative importance of different types of IP at different stages of maturity along the commercialisation journey. The intellectual property priorities of a company are likely to change significantly with product maturity: for example, at the early stages of commercialisation, there may only be 3 or 4 key IP variables, Around Chasm II, a wider number of IP variables can become important; for example, unregistered rights in the form of technology or process know-how may be critical when crossing Chasm II. Enforcing content copyright and specialised customer knowledge can significantly impact progress across Chasm III. An early emphasis on the generation and protection of patents may give way to the need to protect design rights, copyright protection of algorithms, software and meta-data which enables the creation of new devices or processes. The overall message for growth companies is as follows: IP Management is not a one-time activity you focus on early in your journey (with an emphasis on patents) and then ignore - you need to build a wider view of your intellectual property; understand what matters when on your commercialisation journey; and decide on the best ways to protect different kinds of IP at different levels of maturity.