Robert J. Shapiro, former United States Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs, recently detailed some startling facts about the value of intellectual property that are a radical departure from the situation 20 years ago (1). These changes underscore the need for solid management of intellectual property. He reported that: 1) the collective value of IP in America is about $5.5 trillion, equivalent to about 45 percent of our GDP, and greater than the GDP of any other nation; 2) the growth rate of our economy depends more on the development and spread of economic innovations than on how much is invested in plants, equipment or even education; 3) American businesses now spend as much on developing and purchasing "intangibles"--mainly IP--as they do on their physical assets, and 4) a company's management of its IP ultimately determines its overall success.
Bill Gates also highlighted the implications of IP to management when he stated that "CEO' s must now be able to formulate strategies that capitalize on and maximize the value of their company's intellectual assets to drive growth, innovation and cooperative relationships with other companies" (2). This is especially important in today' s climate of open innovation in which choosing the most effective parties for alliances and partnerships is critical for leveraging scarce R&D dollars. Examples of "not getting it right" in managing IP include the huge price tags for recent patent infringement cases: the $612 million settlement between RIM and NTP over the Blackberry technology and the $70 million judgment against Vonage for infringing Sprint/Nextel's VoIP patents. The trick is that once we accept that actively managing and using IP is important, how do we best do so?
The answer can be found in the groundbreaking visualization work of Edward Tufte (3). He built his work on the early efforts of William Playfair, the grandfather of the field, who began in the late 1700s to early 1800s to replace conventional numeric tables with visual representations of the numbers. Two centuries later, we carry this work further by representing in visual form textual information along with numeric elements of the under lying data. In so doing we utilize the immense power of the human brain to assess and remember patterns. Pictures convey complex content, working as nouns, and similarly convey movement, working as verbs. As such, the appropriate use of pictures in business allows executives in all roles to understand their environment and to define what actions to take to improve operating and financial results.
This paper focuses on the use of such visual methods to understand and manage intellectual property. Visualization became associated with the management of IP because patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets are all assets that require in-depth business understanding for their most advantageous business use, yet linguistically do not lend themselves to immediate understanding. Most of us "see" IP, however, only as stacks of paper, with perhaps a cover memo on the top. Given the need for fast, high-quality, highly appropriate and "sticky" decisions on these important IP business assets, sophisticated means and methods are required to understand what you have and what you need to do.
The types of business decisions made on the basis of intellectual property also reflect the need for visualization. Intellectual Property is an asset whose business use we need to understand and to leverage. Given the intangible nature of IP assets, however, one is actually forced to resort to non-financial summary information for its analysis. This force comes from both "pull" and "push" perspectives.
From a "pull" perspective Joe Coates did a wonderful job in his book 2025 of showing that the most powerful way to summarize data is to create pictures made from individual data points, arranged in a way that allows the resulting pattern to show a decision-maker the best path forward (4). …