MBAs and IP: Survey of course offerings

by Andrew Watson on 16 January 2009

The previous post on this topic, MBA courses and IP: Introduction, outlined some thoughts on why IP should be a part of getting an MBA, particularly because intellectual property plays an increasing role in virtually every kind of business. Effectively managing and developing a business, more often than not, requires effectively managing and developing IP and integrating it into the overall business strategy. The training and background of C-level execs and management often includes an MBA, and thus this post addresses two questions targeted at this level of training:

  • Does IP make it into the list of required (core) courses at top MBA schools?
  • Are IP fundamentals or IP strategy courses offered as electives at these schools?

To answer these, I looked at the course offerings available on the web of a selection of top business schools – and the results were a little unexpected.

MBA survey criteria and details

A number of MBA rankings exist, and I’m sure that, much like law school rankings, we could waste lots of pixels discussing which ones to use. From the selection I reviewed, the rankings varied significantly, though a few were consistently in the top. I chose to combine the top ten from the FT and the Economist rankings. This combined list consisted of 15 business schools around the world.

I limited the review of each of these schools to the full time MBA – Executive MBAs were out of the scope.

During the search, I was looking for IP as a separate course or a course that had IP as the main focus.  Now I understand that there could be some debate here, as clearly lots of classes that IP impacts could (and probably do) have IP as a component of the required coursework. However I limited it in this way for practical reasons – some MBA programmes have over 100 course offerings (too much material to parse) – and for fairness – some schools don’t include much more than a course title and a one sentence description on the web, while others have full syllabi detailing practically every class.

I also avoided (when distinguishable) courses in other departments that students could seek out and take (but not merely cross-listed courses). They don’t form an official b-school elective and require the student (where the school allows) to scour the course catalog for the entire university and (often) argue that they should be allowed access.

Brand management courses were not included as IP courses. Courses on “innovation” in general not included either. After review some of the syllabi for these, they seemed out of the scope as IP seemed of little or no focus to these courses (though it certainly should be included from my perspective).

Results: IP not visible in MBA offerings

Here are the results, with links to the specific pages or PDF file on each site listing the courses offered:

University Core Elective
Columbia Business School [Link] No. No.
Dartmouth: Tuck [Link] No. No.
Harvard Business School [Link] No. Yes.
IE Business School [Link] No. No.
IESE Business School [Link] No. No.
IMD [Link] No. No.
INSEAD [Link] No. No.
London Business School [Link] No. No.
MIT: Sloan [Link] No. Yes.
NYU: Stern [Link] No. No.
Stanford: GSB [Link] No. Yes.
UC Berkeley: Haas [Link] No. No.
Univ. of Cambridge: Judge [Link] No. No.
Univ. of Chicago:Booth (GSB) [Link] No. No.[1]
UPenn: Wharton Link] No.[2] No.[Link]

Notes on survey:

[1] For Chicago Booth (formerly GSB), I didn’t see a full list of electives and based the elective search on the “sample courses” provided for each of the MBA concentrations offered. If you see a full list, please send it along for review.

[2] Wharton requires that on top of core/required courses, students must fulfil the core of a major, which were reviewed as part of the electives offered. It appeared that the same courses could be both an elective and for a major, depending on which major the student selected. The supplemental link in the elective column is for the full course listing.

Discussion: IP as an MBA required course

No MBA programme required IP as a separate core or required course, though Wharton does get kudos however for explicitly mentioning IP as a component of its core The Governmental and Legal Environment of Business class.

Why examine the core?  Lots of schools require courses on basics such as finance, economics, marketing, communication, and at some schools, business law. I’d argue that IP is just as important as any of these areas in terms of fundamentals.

But as to the results, I’m not surprised here. I’ll admit that I don’t know if an entirely separate, full-length required course on IP in an MBA programme is the right approach. I would argue that IP has such a broad and growing impact that it at least deserves a place somewhere in the required courses. But to be fair, it didn’t appear that most required a separate business law course either (so hard to justify a course on just one area within the law).

Perhaps the best approach does come from Wharton, explicitly including IP as a component within the core courses. Better still, a requirement that IP be discussed in each relevant core course.

Discussion: IP as an MBA elective

Only three offered specific IP electives: Harvard, Stanford, and MIT: Sloan. Each only offered one course specifically focussed on IP:

With electives, I did think that IP would find its way into more courses with an explicit IP focus. Of course this doesn’t cover the number of courses that have IP as a component due to, as mentioned above, the practical difficulties of locating and reviewing the full descriptions of (all told) well over a thousand electives from across 15 universities. Overall however, these results are disappointing and a bit surprising.

It’s interesting to note that all three of with IP electives are large universities located in major tech areas (Stanford – Silcon Valley and MIT and HBS in Boston/Cambridge). And they are all in the United States.

Selecting from the course descriptions I did have a chance to review that mentioned IP include courses such as:

  • NYU: Stern’s Search and the new economy.
  • London Business School’s New Technology Ventures and New Creative Ventures.
  • MIT Sloan’s J Innovation Teams practical course even specifically addresses developing an IP strategy.

Plenty of other courses, such as ones about building a Silicon Valley start up, would, you would hope, discuss IP and its role within the process as a component.

I did however note a few that gave course descriptions and didn’t mention IP that looked a bit surprising:

Final thoughts

  • Many of these same universities have internationally known academics researching IP in their business schools, and often fantastic IP programmes in law. So it’s not necessarily a resource or awareness problem within the universities themselves.
  • There are certainly other useful (and more direct) ways of surveying this information if time and resources permitted – such direct surveys and faculty publication data, so please comment. This is at best an imperfect measure of how much IP has permeated MBA education.
  • And of course, YMMV.

Please share your thoughts below or email me direct.

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