I have found that there is a direct correlation between the size of an organization and the number of people who care about the organization’s intellectual property.  My underlying premise is that in larger organizations, there are fewer people who care about the company’s intellectual property.  Let me explain.

I remember reading somewhere about how entrepreneurs influence the culture of their start-ups.  Two guys found a company.  Each contributes 50% to the culture of the business.  If you are successful, you start hiring more employees, soon you have 5 employees.  Now each employee contributes 20% of the culture of the business.  What happens to the organization’s culture when you hit 100 employees or 1000?  The original culture morphs and shifts as the number of people who influence the organization grows and changes, unless you have a strong, influential leader who controls the ‘culture’, like Steve Jobs.

In my experience working with larger companies, a similar thing happens with IP.

In small organizations, especially start-ups, everyone has a stake in whether or not the company has their innovation and reputation protected.  Everyone has their hands on the IP.   It’s tangible and it’s important to everyone.  It might be the only real asset in your business.  But, as businesses scale up, fewer people have a direct connection to the organization’s IP, making it vulnerable to mismanagement.

As companies grow, fewer and fewer people have a personal relationship with the IP.  The problem becomes serious in very large organizations with large portfolios where IP is ‘institutionalized’ and ‘compartmentalized’.  The intellectual
property resides in a department usually separate from the rest of the business.  (See my blog post about that here.)  Systems and processes are put in place for the capturing and protecting of an organization’s intellectual property that become less personal and more transactional.

The process usually looks something like this.  An Inventor files an invention disclosure form.  The IP Manager reviews it and tells the patent attorney to write up a patent application and file it with the Patent Office.  The inventor gets a patent award payment.  The unfortunate reality for many large companies is that in the end, the only people with a stake in the game are the inventor and the patent attorney.  If a patent has a 20 year life, who remembers a 15 year old patent?  I would say that in a majority of cases only 1, the inventor.

The numbers go up, but where’s the ‘why’ in this process?  More importantly, where’s the VALUE?  Intellectual property is an important business asset that must be treated as such.  When IP is reduced to a mere transaction in a laundry list of ‘to dos’, it is nearly impossible to extract value from those assets.  Large organizations need to get back to a place where everyone cares about the company’s intellectual assets.  It all goes back to knowing why.