5 steps for the IP world to take the press seriously

by Andrew Watson on 14 May 2009

This post came out of a response to Joff Wild in his blog at IAM (itself a response to Neil at ipfinance), particularly this section:

If journalists do not get IP and report it badly – or not in the way IP professionals would like (sometimes the two are not the same) – I would argue that it is because those inside IP do not make it accessible enough. If IP professionals are not able to make IP relevant to senior management or to journalists or to anyone else, it is no good blaming anyone but themselves. That may sound harsh, but there you go. To get journalists to take IP seriously, you need to explain it to them in a way that they will understand, find interesting and relevant to their readerships. If you don’t do this, they will just not listen – why should they?

Firstly I’ll state that I agree with all of the above. IP is a potential/emerging asset class but the IP world that believes this so passionately seems to find it hard to communicate this to the business world that does not.

Why is this? I don’t find it too hard to understand (when I can listen, definitely with a few raised eyebrows) to Stephen Hawking telling me about quantum physics and the dawn of time. So where are we going wrong?

To widen out the debate, with some thoughts on how to make IP more understandable:

1. The need for a common language. IP in its narrowest sense (ie the various classes of specific legal rights such as patents) is how the business world sees IP – a set of legal rights and rightfully the domain of lawyers. But when one listens to the excellent Mary Adams of i-Capital Advisors or to Kelvin King of Valuation Consulting, you get to a whole new language and perspective. Its about “intangibles” or “intellectual capital” not just the much narrower IP. It’s about humans and what they create.  It’s about the relationships that a business creates and sustains. I think the IP community needs to embrace this wider perspective. And to create a new and common standard language that applies to it.

For me I’d follow the accountants. “Intangibles” is pretty well defined in that market already.

2. The need for perspective. I do think that the IP community over-emphasises IP’s importance and thereby damages its own credibility. It is important but too often we hear the over-emotional exaggeration of its importance to every business, or the apparent importance as greater than other business fundamentals. It is not.

3. The need to educate. Duncan Bucknell and I agree on this. In the widest possible context those that don’t get it need to experience it so that they can. At a basic level. Remember that IP or intangibles are not taught at many business schools beyond the very basics. We need to pitch ourselves into education.

4. The need to de-emphasise the litigation effect. I think that the earliest evolution of our market over-emphasises the link between IP value and litigation. We are moving away from this, but with most of the prominent IP success stories being linked to litigation, the move cannot come fast enough.

5. The ability to clearly communicate. I agree with Joff’s point that many journalists have literally minutes to grasp a whole topic, and that getting a clear IP understanding in that time is hard. We’ve tried it in the last 6 months with a PR program at ipVA. Its hard but after 6 months you do learn what works and what does not. Jordan and I also had a great call with a major accounting firm a couple of weeks ago about the emerging areas of corporate reporting of intangibles. If we can find ways of drawing out comparables between good “IP” companies and bad, we would begin to bridge the communication gap. But it is not just in talking to journalists that we need this – it is about also talking to markets. CEO’s, banks, funders, chairmen, and so on in a non-legal, stimulating and relevant way.

I’m sure that there are other issues missing from the list but these are some of our thoughts at ipVA. Valuation is another key element for sure but I’m not a valuation specialist. All we do know from those who are, is that it is less nebulous than it was, and becoming more accepted.

Pick your own date by which these factors will merge and evolve sufficiently to be a part of business mainstream.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mary Adams 05.14.09 at 7:08 pm

I somehow missed that thread at IAM so I was glad to see it and agree with your points. Thank you for your confidence in me.

This discussion made me think of Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, which I highly recommend. They talk about the “curse of knowledge” which can easily afflict experts in any subject. They identify six characteristics of memorable ideas: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. The three that I think especially apply here are simplicity, concreteness and stories.

It’s good to have your reminder that we need to show what we mean, rather than telling. Use stories that make simple points. We all share passion for the field of intangibles/intellectual property/intellectual capital. So the burden is on us to make it real and relevant.

Thanks for provoking the discussion!

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