The sixth in a series of 10 blogs by Martin Brassell of Inngot, helping you find your own answers to 10 key questions about your intellectual property, or IP.

In the previous blog, we discussed the importance of keeping quiet about what you’re developing until you’re ready to patent – or launch. However, it can sometimes make a lot of sense to ‘seed’ your IP as widely as possible. When, exactly?

One of the unusual properties of IP is that it doesn’t wear out with use – rather, the opposite is true; the more ubiquitous your IP is, the more it is worth. In our connected world, it is worth reflecting on this attribute when planning your marketing strategy, which should always be very closely coupled to your IP strategy.

At the extremes of the spectrum, it is fairly clear what sort of strategy is going to work best. If you are launching a new fast-moving consumer product into a well-established and highly competitive market, you’ll probably want to obtain maximum IP protection for it, so that you can carve out a niche before someone else has worked out how to design around your patents.

On the other hand, if you have invented a new standard for a communications protocol, such as a means of handling large video files, you will most likely want to get it as widely adopted as possible. Here, the purpose of any patenting will not be to stop people copying you, but to have a recognisable asset that you can license to as many companies as possible.

Licensing can help you do many things. For example, you may want to sub-contract the manufacture of your new FMCG gizmo. Alternatively, you may have come up with a compelling new gaming character and wish to create
merchandise based on it. The ‘cleaner’ and better defined your IP is, the easier it is to license it successfully.

So, IP is good to have. But over-zealous enforcement of IP rights is not necessarily a good thing, either for society or for the fortunes of individual businesses. Large pharmaceutical companies have suffered reputational damage by invoking their patents in the third world; individual businesses who demand expensive licences from all competitors have seen their IP challenged and sometimes overturned; copyright has translated so poorly into some parts of the digital space that the law has become simply unenforceable, and has had to be modified.

The point here is that owning IP doesn’t commit you to a particular course of action – it gives you choices. As one example, Creative Commons (www.creativecommons.org.uk) offers a number of different licensing templates which enable creators to decide which parts of their automatic copyright protection they will enforce, and which aspects they will forego. So it’s possible to allow others to share your work freely, as long as they do not charge others for it, but require them to acknowledge you as the source.

This is a good example of ‘seeding’ – a conscious strategy to percolate your work into an environment. It also illustrates that the value of IP is not only realised in direct income; it also helps to build reputations, open doors and influence and empower others. Just think of Linux.

Visit www.inngot.com for details of how to profile and value your IP and intangibles.

You can pick up a free confidentiality agreement or non-disclosure wording from www.inngot.com by visiting the ‘Free downloads’ section of the website.

Others in the series:

De-mystifying IP

Unlocking the hidden value of apps

IP - What have I got?

IP - Is what I have original and distinctive?

Is my IP really mine?

IP - How can I protect what I’ve got?

IP - Who else knows about what I’ve got?