Intellectual Property in a Time of Change

By Germeraad, Paul | Research-Technology Management, November/December 1999 | Go to article overview

Intellectual Property in a Time of Change


Germeraad, Paul, Research-Technology Management


A new generation of visualization tools helps companies obtain the maximum competitive leverage from their intellectual property portfolios.

OVERVIEW: R&D departments continue to feel the pressure to innovate faster and smarter. Intellectual property (IP) is a relatively untapped source of new revenue ideas. Most IP is usually filed away in people's heads or filing cabinets. Made active, however, these assets can be used to quickly and accurately identify new market and product opportunities. This is done by deploying a new generation of lP management tools, which give R&D professionals the ability to organize, view and analyze their intellectual assets. The resulting information can be used to make fast, well-informed decisions about which businesses to enter, which to acquire, and which to defend.

Today's dynamic global technology markets are characterized by shrinking product life cycles, more stringent time-to-market demands, and continuous change. To meet these challenges, companies worldwide are seeking to turn their knowledge directly into concrete, defensible intellectual property (IP). Recent trends affecting both legal and technical management are driving these efforts.

For example, courts in the United States are now more likely than in the past to favor the person or company holding a patent. Patents are being upheld in the courts and damages are being provided to people whose patents have been infringed. In addition, U.S. courts have recently upheld business processes as patentable in certain forms, a decision in stark contradiction to previous case law. It is also now possible to patent software and software processes, whereas in the past the software-related IP was protected only through copyrights.

A new market pull focused on the development and use of IP has thus emerged, creating new opportunities to use intellectual property to control and manage competition. IP is becoming respected in the market in a way that it has not been in the past. This new climate is complemented by development of many new IP tools, which enable IP to be assembled and visually represented. This capability greatly speeds processes and opens windows of opportunity to develop and leverage intellectual property.

R&D and IP

Such opportunity lands directly in the lap of R&D executives, because it is within R&D-and R&D's collaborating partners-that intellectual property is created, prosecuted, litigated, and licensed. R&D is responsible for quickly developing and sustaining high-valued-added products and services, and also for protecting a company's intellectual property.

The key for R&D management in this new environment is to identify new markets when they emerge and then look for technology that capitalizes on these potential opportunities. At a high level, it means being able to understand the portfolios a business owns and how those portfolios relate to its competitors, thus enabling management to make better business decisions faster. This is an appropriate time for companies to restructure the way they license their IP and the way they collaborate with other companies to create IP. The time has come for R&D managers to take a leadership role in changing how their companies use and manage intellectual property.

New Tools Enable Growth

Intellectual property has long been used to keep competitors out of markets. But it was not until the 1980s that companies actually started to participate with others in building new markets and gathering wealth by licensing technologies to those companies that could help build new markets. Companies today are creating intellectual property in record amounts. The number of patents issued in 1975 was on the order of a half million; by 1985 that number had risen to I million, and by the mid- 1990s it was more than 2 million patents per year. The number will soon reach 3 million patents annually. …

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