When a company’s IP culture varies across a company’s business units and IP functional groups inefficiencies develop. This was highlighted during a recent webinar with many prominent companies IP organizations represented.  The simple answer of having “a single organization responsible for making sure everything is uniform” was appropriately shouted down by noting in large companies’ various business units operate in very different economic ecosystems. 

Thus, to address these in these efficiencies, it’s important to start from common ground. The basic Intellectual Property Hierarchy popularized by Suzanne Harrison in the book “Edison in the Board Room” is such a starting point. From a management standpoint any business issue contained in the IP pyramid is always prioritized from the bottom up.

Relationship Between Business and IP Needs

Confusion arises in a corporation when different business units’ IP strategy reflects differing priorities amongst the Five Levels of Business and IP Needs.  This can be perfectly appropriate when, for example, in one industry segment there is little or no litigation, and thus freedom to operate issues are for business purposes, not present. In such environments, In-Licensing for Open Innovation may take priority, and because of this dominant priority the business unit IP culture will reflect an open, transparent and embracing culture. This can be in stark contrast to a business unit where freedom to operate is frequently litigated. In this latter business unit’s environment, it’s not surprising to find the IP culture is closed, suspicious, and rule-based.

The inefficiencies that develop from such conflicting IP cultures are best addressed by viewing them in the proper context. A simple tool comprised of color coding each business units’ priority of the five business needs and corresponding IP need, when shared with other business units’ intellectual property functions, is a fast way for people to understand and appreciate the others’ appropriate culture and behavior. Allowing employees and contractors to quickly gain this wisdom via a shared infographic is a better way to remove corporate inefficiency versus trying to force everybody into a one-size-fits-all IP culture.