IP beyond patents

Authors: Matthew Wahlrab and Craig Rochester

Patents aren’t everything.
So what other IP options are out there?

When it comes to intellectual property (IP), patents are often seen as the be-all and end-all. Why? Because patents protect useful technological innovation that is often extremely valuable to a technology company. They help to make the nebulous, mostly intangible world of IP tangible, with a government-granted right to exclude others from practicing your invention. They even come with a nice, printed copy that you can hold, with a ribbon and a pretty seal on it.

Yet, while patents certainly are a key component of protecting IP, there are other important ways to safeguard IP assets.

At Rapid Alpha, we work with clients to navigate all of these options, crafting IP strategies that are tailored to their short, medium, and long term goals, whether they involve attracting investment, growing the business,, or navigating an exit. 

Starting from clients’ IP must-haves, we develop a nuanced strategy

Historical bias can lead us to think of IP as actual, physical, and tangible. Objects or methods that can be drawn, photographed, or otherwise described discretely and succinctly. Yet rapid technological evolution means that innovation is now often intangible and hard to pin down, requiring creative, nuanced methods to identify, document, and protect it.

Take a client of ours in the digital graphics software space. Using AI, they’ve evolved a standard ‘user takes action > computer consults decision tree > computer feeds back to user’ model into an infinite, computer-generated reality that exists and changes regardless of user actions. A more immersive, more realistic virtual environment that’s new every time the user returns. The ingenuity is clear — but how do we pinpoint the concrete IP? It’s in the software code, the decision trees, matrices, rules, language, and theories developed for it, and the interactions between all the computer components that need to occur for this infinite, AI-created scenario to run. There’s no potentially patentable physical object, but there’s certainly highly valuable IP there, which we’re guiding our client to map and protect with a bespoke approach.

Explaining and protecting a layer between component design and component interaction that is so seamless that users can take it for granted is key to understanding cutting-edge IP. It’s integral to what we do at Rapid Alpha: helping our clients to identify and document their IP assets, and crafting a strategy to protect them. Then, executing on that strategy to prepare, filie, and register this intangible IP to establish the client’s ownership of it, inform the rest of the world that it is protected as theirs, and create an IP portfolio that can be used for fundraising, enforcement, licensing, partnering, or other approach to securing a position in the market..

Harnessing the power of invisible assets

At Rapid Alpha, we prefer to support founders and companies in honing their ideas while creating a comprehensive inventory of their intellectual property assets. We trace each idea’s potential commercial value — and not just in the revenue-generating or cost-cutting sense. There are many elements we consider in order to help your business thrive, such as strategic IP licensing, presenting a dynamic innovation narrative to investors and customers, and leveraging IP assets to reward employee innovation and foster a positive and creative company culture.

This circles us neatly back to our final IP definition dissection: IP as “business methods, and industrial processes.” IP isn’t just in your macro strategy; IP is right down in the minutiae of your standard operating procedures (SOPs). From the process you use to eliminate non-starter R&D ideas to how you receive and handle invoices, all of these are IP assets. If you treat them as such and leverage them to identify ways of being more attractive to work with as a company, they can be used alongside the traditional forms of IP protection to build a sustained competitive advantage. 

Time is everything in cutting-edge tech, so our IP work maximizes yours

Even if they miraculously have the headspace to ponder and pinpoint IP in all its intangibilities day to day, engineers with delivery deadlines to meet simply don’t have time to stop and document the IP they’re churning out.

Disrupting output flow is counterproductive for any business, so our approach allows our clients to continue as usual, with minimal distractions. We take time to observe and learn about a company’s innovative technologies, and then begin flagging potentially protectable IP assets created as their technology continues to evolve.

Our team smoothly adds ready-to-go IP-tracking infrastructure and expertise into your daily work, with no expensive and time-consuming onboarding required. Instead, all we’ll need is a small amount of time to review and verify with you our assessments. 

Optimizing business intelligence value and utility

Business intelligence is another area where we frequently discover valuable overlooked IP — especially in the realm of competitor analysis. We see the same issue across the business ecosystem, from companies as large as Boeing to the youngest of startups: competitor analysis often stays in the minds of the employees who conduct it, restricting vital market insights to silos within the company.

This can lead to decisions being taken based on what are presumed to be comprehensive, updated insights about competitors. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the company, there may be a researcher full of fresh, more nuanced data who hasn’t been empowered by internal culture or procedures to broadcast what they’ve uncovered. The result? Blind spots, misguided decision-making, and wasted resources — all of which could be averted by enabling the right person to effectively share their knowledge. 

In short, if your IP and know-how aren’t documented and discoverable within your company, they might as well not exist. We work with our clients to set up the systems they need to achieve this: structuring internal knowledge on competitors and ensuring it’s findable, digestible, and queryable. 

Capturing the added value created by speed and agility

There’s a further layer of potentially protectable value that exists around IP assets themselves: the speed and agility with which you generate your IP.

If you’ve collapsed 1 million lines of code into 10 über-efficient lines, you’ve added valuable potential — from enhanced streaming speeds and money-saving data usage reductions to lowered energy consumption. While often viewed simply ascost-cutters or efficiency gains, these types of developments are potentially protectable, valuable IP. 

Safeguarding the IP in your talent and culture

Part of your IP lives, breathes, and evolves in the individuals you employ. Of course, that’s not something you can directly patent or box up and lock away safely. Take software code, for example. The functional aspects might be patentable, but they might not be. Copyright could also be an option, but it likely won’t guarantee strong protection. Ultimately, the key IP asset exists in the brain of the talented engineer who’s creating this code for you, who — like any employee — has the right to part ways with your company at any time, taking their ingenuity along with them, though of course not the code itself.

As such, the only way to retain and mature that IP within your company is to diligently recognize, reward, and nurture the efforts of the talented individuals you employ. If they stay with you, the IP they carry stays too.

Making talent feel valued and appreciated is a key part of crafting a positive, sustainable company culture. This in itself can become IP, as internal culture and employee satisfaction levels dictate how efficiently and effectively your people perform, as well as the quality of your business output.  

Ready to devise the IP strategy your innovation needs?

Helping technical leaders win their markets, negotiate from positions of strength, and outperform their competition for investment are Rapid Alpha’s driving aims. To talk more about how we can support your team to map, leverage, and protect its IP, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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