IP strategy definition

by Andrew Watson on 11 February 2009

I‘ve been doing a lot of writing over the past six weeks about IP, IP strategy, and how it relates to businesses, including for an upcoming article with Andrew for Managing IP. In the process, I found that there wasn’t any short and simple definition of “IP strategy”. Here is my proposed definition of IP Strategy, cross-posted from the main ipVA site for discussion here:

IP Strategy – (a/k/a IPR Strategy) The central playbook around intellectual property and how it supports the business.

I’ve included some IP strategy examples as well:

  • Lock out competitors from the next generation of product;
  • Avoid and design around an aggressive competitor; or
  • Maintain market lead through secrecy.

Any thoughts or comments?

{ 3 trackbacks }

Broken IP business structures | Tangible IP
04.08.09 at 11:03 am
IP strategy at Northwestern
08.17.09 at 7:38 am
Happy birthday Tangible IP
09.01.09 at 3:47 pm

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Adams 02.14.09 at 2:20 pm

Your short definition seemed clear and accurate. But then I read your examples. The examples are not about how IP supports the business. They are about how intellectual capital supports the business.

While I understand its IP-related focus, I think that that the IP community does itself a disservice by thinking that the world–or at least the modern business–revolves around you. IP is just a legal creation. It is the piece of the organization’s intellectual capital that can be identified and protected. But, in most cases, it is far from a discrete asset. If you want to protect yourself from aggressive competitors and lock out others, you need to think about the intellectual capital ecosystem that includes and supports IC: human capital, processes and external networks, just to name a few.

JS Hatcher 02.16.09 at 11:33 am

Thanks for the comment. I am the first to always point out that when thinking about IP you must always think about its position within all of the intellectual capital of a business. IP, as a formal branch of law, is only one way that intellectual capital can be managed to support the business.

I totally and completely agree that if, for example, the goal is to “Lock out competitors from the next generation of product” that factors other than IP can be used. If a particular field only has a handful of leading experts, you could try to hire all or most of them to make it difficult for your competitor to access key knowledge. At the same time you could patent heavily as a means of locking out competitors. Focusing narrowly on patents or just on the formal areas of IP does do a disservice to the whole “ecosystem”. Just as equally however, for some businesses there is a need to not only think broadly about IP and its context, but also very deeply into the specifics of IP and its fit.

We perhaps differ only in phrasing and focus. I think for an IP strategy, defined above, it would be entirely too narrow to give as an example “Patenting around likely standards of second generation of product” (think Quallcomm and mobile phones) when the overall strategy of locking out competitors could mean using trade secrets or some other aspect of IP to do so. Perhaps in getting away from what I see as the trap of thinking only in terms of a specific type of IP (patents), I gave examples that are too broad. But perhaps that just means that a strategy for a business’s “intangibles” can be the same, whether you mean the specifics of IP or the wider range of networks and human capital?

Mary Adams 02.16.09 at 12:27 pm

Yes! You said it better than I: strategy for all intangibles can be the same–they are just different pieces of the same strategic ecosystem. Thanks for a great conversation.

Andrew Watson 02.24.09 at 10:45 pm


I think you express the widest (maybe the best) definition of “intangibles” and “IC strategy” I have so far come across. Your website also does a great job and is a good education piece in itself.

We agree that the narrow “IPR” definition and frame of reference will rarely capture the full opportunity, or even understand how wide it needs to ripple into an organisation to have maximum impact. I think we are still trying to grasp the frame of reference and your post is helping to do that.

The challenge I see though is that at some point along the scale of how wide the definition is drawn, one ends up almost redefining the business, or needing to turn it upside down to have the impact one want sto have. Few CEOs we know would buy that. So at least for now, we are drawing the box around the bits of intangibles (mainly innovation culture and placing proper systems around how the outputs from that are recognised and protected) that a CEO new to this area can comprehend.

As for the badge to put on it, it seems to me that we as a community almost need a new language. I get “IC” as opposed to “IP” and it does make the “you mean internet protocol?” conversation avoidable, but much of the world at least gets the IP acronym as one of two alternatives.

A great debate. You’re giving me vertigo.


JS Hatcher 03.16.09 at 10:06 am

A quick note to add a manual trackback to this post from Mary’s blog and a (very useful) follow up comment that she posted IP and IC — a strategy or the strategy?

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