I remember my first exposure to Shakespeare in high school and the stress it caused when I realized that somehow I had to understand what looked like English, but which to me, might as well have been written in Klingon. I have witnessed the same stress in business owners when the topic and lingo of intellectual property comes up. The way to get through it, like anything else, is to start with what does make sense and go from there. So, with that in mind, let me recount to you the gist of two conversations I recently had with business owners about intellectual property and their business.
Do I really need to bother with intellectual property?
The short answer to that question is IP is always part of your business, so why wouldn’t you? Let’s also consider, however, the context for the question.
The question was prompted after a business owner received mixed messages from her board of advisors about the relevance of intellectual property (IP) to her business, an enterprise focused on educating young entrepreneurs. The different perspectives of her advisors ranged from “forget about IP” to “worry about it later”; focus instead on your “value proposition and managing risk”.
This thinking reveals some common misconceptions about what IP is and the role it plays in a business. The first was that IP can somehow be disassociated from managing risk and is extraneous to the brand, content, and expertise, at the core of her business. In fact, in this case, content is her product, and so the value proposition of her business is all about IP. Selling her brand of content fundamentally relies on working with her copyrights and trademark rights. Whether or not she chooses to register these IP rights is another question, but even if she does not, she will still be using those rights in her transactions with publishers, distributors and customers.
Then there is the idea that you can put off addressing IP issues until you have some traction in the marketplace and some cash to spare. While addressing IP issues early on can indeed pull on meager start-up resources, suggesting you can cut IP out of the business incubation stage is like saying you can add yeast to bread to make it rise after you have baked it. In reality, you can make the most of the bread (and butter) of your business if you take the time to consider the legal nature of your creative assets from the get go. To do otherwise, is to risk not achieving the very thing you set out to do.
If I am dealing with intellectual property in my business, I don’t know it.
The business owner who raised this point works with a number of artisans and was thoughtfully reflecting on how business relationships seem to work fine without bringing intellectual property into the conversation. I get it. The more you talk about “legal stuff”, the harder it can be to get folks on board. The thing is, at the risk of being repetitive, IP is part of the equation even if not seen or acknowledged, and the math generally will not work in the long run if it is not somehow accounted for. So knowing this, would you rather address IP issues before or after they become a problem?
While the language of IP is not the most prosaic, understanding and talking about what something is, instead of around it, makes for clear, transparent and informed conversations, conducive to building solid business relationships. You can also save everyone the trouble of investing in relationships which are not a fit to begin with.
Whenever I have had this discussion with small business owners, I am reminded of my early days as a gardener, going to the nursery, buying plants and overlooking some of the details about how to care for them in different seasons. During the summer, flowers bloomed and there was new growth. In the fall and winter I would bypass a few steps to help the plants weather the colder days, and then when spring arrived, there was not much of a garden to speak of. Out of pocket and starting over, it was clear that there is no substitute for having a few targeted conversations and paying attention to the details.
And so it is with IP and your business relationships – a more thorough understanding of your creative assets is always a plus and with this knowledge, the options for cultivating business plans and relationships become more numerous, adaptable, sustainable and reflective of the real value of your business.
Ariadni Athanassiadis is the lead attorney of Kyma Professional Corporation, which provides intellectual property (IP) legal services to help your business develop and benefit from the creative efforts and assets that make it distinctive. Whether it is your brand, product, services, designs, technology or business processes, Ariadni can help design IP legal solutions which let you make the most of what you give to your business.
Kyma Professional Corporation