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Firms struggle to protect their most important asset


Businesses are struggling to protect their most important asset - their intellectual property (IP) or “know-how”, say researchers at the University of Sussex.

Given that up to 80% of the value of many firms is now formed by their IP, which includes patents, copyright, trademarks and designs, this dramatic finding by the University’s Science and Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU) raises serious risk management challenges for firms, investors and clients.

The study, jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Ministry of Defence, warns that these difficulties are particularly relevant when firms are involved in collaborative projects.

The increasing complexity of products such as telecoms networks, aircraft and ships means that firms need to collaborate more, as each firm cannot provide all of the skills and knowledge needed to deliver. Firms involved in collaboration increasingly use information and communication technologies to share designs and information about components, design techniques, and manufacturing processes.

Dr Puay Tang, one of the authors of the report, says: “Companies must ensure that their intellectual property is protected throughout. A key problem is that four groups of professionals within firms - IP professionals, engineers, commercial staff and IT managers - rarely work together to protect intellectual property.”

Firms face particular risks when working across national boundaries, as is so often the case in such large projects. In the defence sector, export control and technology transfer regulations are especially important, and vary in the different legal and regulatory contexts in different countries.

Dr Jordi Molas-Gallart, the report’s other author, adds: ‘Much is already known about how to manage IP in collaborative environments, but the application of this knowledge is lagging. There are technologies for tagging and tracking the use of IP in collaborative projects, so it is not inevitable that such collaboration brings problems. This is a matter of culture within organisations. Senior managers need to start taking seriously their responsibility to protect IP, and they need to bang heads together to make it happen’.

Jacqui Bealing | alfa
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