Universities and research & technology organisations (RTOs) have a wealth of intangible assets, often vested in their people, long-established brands, reputation and a portfolio of inventions.
For a university or RTO, IP strategy is about understanding which intangible assets can be made to work well for the organisation. There is always an on-going debate in academia as to whether scientific developments should be patented and commercialised to further the commercial gains of the university, or published in the scientific press to further the reputation of the inventor. The reality is that both are important, and a good IP strategy and IP management process can be developed to benefit both. Without a clear IP strategy, the development of intangible assets can be piecemeal and may serve neither purpose well.
In many research organisations (whether in academia or public sector research establishments) IP portfolios are typically a scatter of unrelated single patents, with little clustering of patents around particular technologies. A single patent on its own is seldom worth much and may be less than the cost of maintaining it; a strongly interlinked cluster of patents around an idea, covering its implementation and a range of applications is more likely to be commercially valuable. Building a cluster requires investment in development resources, commitment from the researchers, and funding for patent applications.
Benefiting from IP strategy
Trying to commercialise a wide range of unrelated opportunities is a tough call. It is often better to focus more resources on a selected narrow range of opportunities for serious commercial success and to raise the game to a higher level. To do this well requires insight into the relevant market areas, clarity on IP owned by other parties, and an understanding of the competitive strength of a portfolio in that technology sector. These are the skills of an IP strategist.
A university or RTO brand is often powerful within its field and yet its brand values may be poorly understood. A good IP strategy will encompass the management of the brand and leverage its value for the organisation. A strong IP strategy builds on the organisation’s inherent research strengths or location to develop a bundle of IP which will secure its reputation in the future. Protection of IP always needs to be prioritised within budgets and there are hard choices to be made about which research areas should be supported. An IP strategy will pin-point where good investments in IP protection should be made.
Finding the right advice
Universities and RTOs that succeed in a knowledge economy understand the value of strategic IP advice. It is often easier for an independent IP strategist to make the hard selection of choices as to which IP should be supported than it is for an internal function to deal with the politics of the organisation. A good IP strategist will seek first to understand how the organisation functions and then apply specialist knowledge and experience to put in place an IP strategy that will ensure it develops. Every university and RTO should look to add the skills of an IP strategist to their decision-making processes and INTIPSA exists to provide ready access to this pool of talent.