Technological knowledge as an asset
We’ve been thinking, developing and inventing throughout history, but how do we protect our brainchild from being stolen, and how do we convert it into cash?
Man is a curious creature by nature, always thinking, exploring and evolving, continuously reinventing himself. Every day we discover that man has succeeded in generating more knowledge, developing more technologies, and publishing them in the form of scientific publications, patents and via a variety of other media, which themselves are the fruits of his creation.
Quite often, we do not grasp the value of an invention at the time it is first created.
There is the famous anecdote about William Gladstone, British Chancellor of the Exchequer (minister of finance), who visited the laboratory of Michael Faraday, an English chemist and physicist who contributed significantly to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry, and asked him about the practical value of electricity. To which Faraday replied,
Why, sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it...
Without going into the historical conflict between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, which came to be known as the War of the Currents (AC versus DC power), it is clear to us today that the “invention” of electricity, which started out as basic research, evolved into a whole industry of developments and products that are now sold and consumed as a matter of routine.
Knowledge and technology don’t simply “come to be”, and the investment of a great deal of resources is required to acquire them. Consequently, man created the intellectual property protection mechanism, which grants the inventor exclusive ownership (a monopoly, generally for a limited period) of the fruit of his labors as a merchandisable asset and in return, the public benefits from the ability to share the knowledge in favor of the continued development of research and the enrichment of human knowledge. The new knowledge that is made public serves as a new benchmark, which will form the basis for the next development.
Don’t let them steal my idea!
An important source of a company’s income is the product that is sold, but it should be taken into account that the technology itself can also be sold or traded. Just as, to our regret, products are stolen, so technologies and ideas are liable to find their way to the market or to the hands of rivals. To raise awareness and protect the Company’s knowledge and intellectual property, when we have a new technological development or idea, the following steps must be taken:
- Keep the number of parties involved to the necessary minimum.
- Consult the Legal Department / IP Director, who will provide guidance on how to proceed in terms of confidentiality and will also provide help in reviewing the possibility of filing a patent application with the Israel Patent Office or applying to the Trademarks Department to register a trademark (both entities are within the Ministry of Justice).
Where’s the money?
A story that illustrates the economic potential inherent in this sphere is the battle waged between Apple and Samsung Electronics over smartphone patent infringement, following which Samsung was ultimately charged to pay Apple $1.2 billion.
We are also witnessing acquisitions of IP portfolios: in the past decade, Google acquired 17,000 patents from Motorola Mobility for a total of $12.5 billion, while Microsoft bought a “mere” 800 patents from AOL for $1.1 billion.
Clearly, what all this means is that if we are smart enough to create knowledge assets and to make sure they are properly protected, we will be generating new value for the Company.