April 4, 2024

The Worst and Best Times for an IP Strategy


You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it’ll go, 

Yogi Berra – American baseball player

Timing is a key factor to consider when looking at implementing change in a business. When that change is in relation to how you treat your most valuable assets (intangible ones, of course!) then timing is critical. Implementing an IP strategy can require behavioural and organisational change. And implementation of a strategy needs to be embraced, not just tolerated, to have maximum effect.

Therefore timing, along with the right messaging, can be the difference in how an IP strategy is received.

Survival mode

When in survival mode there needs to be a laser focus on what a business needs to do to just “wash its face” – aka make enough revenue to cover its expenses.

This is not the time to think expansively. Do not look at an IP strategy. This is the time for nitty gritty operational mode.

Blockages and uncertainties

Sometimes initial discussions with a business will uncover critical matters that need resolving before preparing a targeted IP strategy. While an IP strategy can discuss variables and their effect on business pathways, often it is more effective to suggest to a client that they address some matters to remove some variables or uncertainties.

One example comes from a client that was setting up an enterprise to manufacture a new food product for a substantial export market. Their end goal was to have a five-to-seven-year exit strategy.

The initial “getting to know you” interview brought up three critical matters, the resolution of which could totally change the direction of the business. So, before taking on the IP strategy, I recommended the following.

  • Formalise the relationship they had with the proposed manufacturer. This manufacturer had contributed to the product design and there were uncertainties around ownership and obligations which could permanently stall the project.
  • Review the global brand situation as there was a similar product with a similar name. The review didn’t just look at Freedom to Operate issues, it also included practical market considerations such as whether they had a stand-out brand to which they can more readily add value and thus build a saleable asset.
  • As food can be tricky to patent, review what new functional elements they had (maybe process steps or ingredient ratios). These could be patentable.

Once these issues were resolved, the business path could be clarified, and the resultant IP strategy more targeted.

Business As Usual

Standing still is the fastest way of moving backwards in a rapidly changing world. Lauren Bacall – actress

If a business is comfortable with how it is going and has little desire to change, then this is not a good time to introduce a new IP strategy.

Adopting a new IP strategy requires commitment, energy, and a desire for positive change. This is at odds with the complacency of “business as usual”.

New Project

The perfect time for a new IP strategy!

IP strategies are often about realising potential, and a new project just oozes potential. New technologies, different markets, and out of the box business models can all have a strategic IP lens applied to them.

With a fresh new project, there is nothing to fix and everything to gain.

Preferably, an IP strategist is brought in at the start of a new project as they can help integrate IP considerations throughout.

If a project requires experimental trials, the IP strategist can work with the trial researchers to ensure that data supports a strong patent position and possibly greater applications of the innovation.

For example, when working with researchers in horticultural and agricultural industries, we often looked at whether the trials could be extended to cover more than one species – say multiple members of the ruminant family rather than just cows. Subsequently a patent specification could be drafted with patent claims fully supported to cover all ruminants.

So, bring in an IP strategist at the start of a project to maximise opportunities.

Becoming investor ready

As I have discussed in earlier articles, a potential investor needs to feel comfortable that their investment will:

a) Be sustainable from a business perspective

b) Not infringe any rights

c) Is worth it and is scalable

A comprehensive IP strategy can give investors reassurance. This is particularly so with investee start-ups as often they do not have a financial track record and nearly all their assets are intangible.

So before seeking investment, consider having an IP strategy in place that can be referenced in pitch decks and Information Memoranda.

Scaling up

I have facilitated business strategic planning using the process outlined in the Verne Harnish book Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It… and why the Rest Don’t

Harnish states that the goal of his book is to help you turn what feels like an anchor into the wind at your back. To create a company where the team is engaged, the customers are doing your marketing, and everyone is making money. To accomplish this, Scaling Up focuses on the Four Decisions® methodology that every company must get right: People, Strategy, Execution, and Cash. More than 40,000 firms around the globe have used these tools to scale their companies successfully — many to $1 billion and beyond.

IP strategy is also a significant enabler with scaling up, in addition to the core four decisions above. For example, an IP strategy can identify:

a) What IP can be packaged together and multiplied out (think franchise as one model)

b) If you can backfill IP rights (getting rights in new countries for example)

Why timing of IP strategies matters

Successful implementation of an IP strategy can cause a positive step change in organisation. But this needs to be at a time that the organisation is receptive to change and there is clarity around the future direction of that organisation.

Contact Us