The most common words that are conjured up in people's minds alongside Intellectual Property, or IP, are patents and protection. To most people, IP = how you protect your invention.
This is a notion that needs to be disabused. In the 21st century, a more important association with IP ought to be ‘value’.
Back in 1997, Marvel Comics, the purveyor of superhero comics, went bankrupt with debts of over $400 million. The ensuing turnaround has become a classic example of repositioning drained, unorganised and diluted IP rights. The owners recognised where the real value lay in the assets and grew this central nugget of the organisation with a long term IP strategy. Marvel has leveraged the value of its superhero characters through a series of highly profitable licensing deals. In 2009, Walt Disney bought the business - essentially the rights to the back catalogue - for an astonishing $4 billion.
Conducting an Intellectual Property audit from time to time is highly recommended. Check that brands have trademarks registered in the various jurisdictions; and question whether the trademarks are broad enough to cover existing and planned activities. Find out what other IP assets the company has and make an effort to quantify their value. Too many prospective business owners fail to prepare their IP for the eventuality of a sale. Poor IP planning can result in a lower deal price, unnecessary pre-diligence expenses and sometimes a scuppering of the whole transaction.
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