on October 30th, 2008

Dear colleagues

Most of you will chortle quietly when it comes to protecting your intellectual property (IP). “What intellectual property?” you may think, with some exasperation. But you will be surprised at how often the simple ideas that you have developed over the years become intensely valuable property. IP represents the property of your mind or intellect. There are various types of IP, such as; patents, trademarks (letters/phrases/logos), designs (shapes or appearances of manufactured goods) and copyright for original material (programs and books). Most of us are familiar with patents, which grant an exclusive license to the patent holder for a period of 20 years (in the US, at least), but copyright is slightly different. A copyright (this can vary from country to country), gives a maximum of 95 years for corporate ownership, or for the life of the author, plus 70 years. It is interesting to note that copyright (and indeed circuit layout rights) are automatically granted to you upon the creation of the material. Other IP rights (patents being the best example here) have to be registered with local and international governmental organisations. Registration does vary, however, from country to country. For example, in the US, copyrights are registered with the government, whereas in Australia, no registration is required.

As you know, the global market is becoming increasingly aggressive and shrewd when it comes to stealing valuable ideas and knowledge - to gain that competitive edge. Ownership of the IP rights give you the legal recognition of your ownership and goes a long way to protecting it from unfair competition. It is quite an expensive and onerous task, but a worthwhile consideration.

A famous example (albeit a simple one) of where things went awry is the Kambrook power board. The product was enormously successful and led to Kambrook becoming a major world player in this consumer business (esp. in the Asia Pacific region). But the IP was not protected. It should have been patented and as a result, within a short time, it was copied unscrupulously and sold throughout the world by aggressively competing firms. The originator of the idea continues to lose tens of millions in royalties every year.

There is no doubt that intellectual property is the main engine of growth for any business and is especially advantageous in challenging economic times. Clever thinking and an edge is essential - ranging from innovative engineering designs (eg improved efficiencies), to pioneering engineering technologies, such as; deep water drilling or space exploration.

In essence, don’t simply give away your intellectual property, but treat it with as much respect as you would cash and your other assets.

A few strategies:
• Consider what IP you have. Often this is what gives you and your business a competitive edge.
• Reflect on how you are protecting it
• Avoid telling others about your IP until you have protection in place
• Implement strategies to harness the development of IP in your firm

We should always remember the remarks of an old sage when it comes to our most valuable assets:
The wise man carries his possessions within him.

Yours in engineering learning


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