What is IP?
IP is the thinking that makes a company unique. For many companies, their main IP is their Unique Selling Proposition (USP). The other half of their IP is how customers experience that USP. Some businesses are lucky enough to own a patent or two that describes their processes and / or products. IP is the reason people choose to do business with you.
Regardless of the type of IP your business owns, you need to protect it to ensure your point of difference in the market.
The problem is that IP should evolve over time and not remain stagnant. If you don’t update and constantly iterate on your IP you risk becoming irrelevant (think Kodak). This really highlights the contrast between keeping your IP in house, versus collaborating externally. Maintaining ownership within your business may reduce risk, however you’re also limiting the innovation and application of your IP that can be achieved with third-party involvement.
What is the right way to protect your IP, while getting fresh ideas?
Do you outsource this thinking to an agency? Do you try to hire strategic-guns internally? The answer is neither or both. In many ways, a blended team is the way to get the best of each, but it isn’t that easy. There are definitely things to consider for both choices.
To get the most value from a blended team you need to infuse internal ideas with external ideas, that is: become the custodian of your IP rather than the controller. It is important to know what IP you must retain within the business, in comparison to what you can externalise.
IP worth owning and retaining are things like the customer experience – not the call center, but ‘how’ the call center interacts. In 5 years time we might not have call centres at all, but rather digital assistants. If your brand retains IP on how it should deal with customers, your digital assistant could then interact like your call centres. Do you need to know the technology required right then? No. You are the custodian of the tone and you can partner with the best tech partners at any given time.
Always make sure your best people are part of the blended team.
Don’t let an external company, building your next generation-tech, control your business tone of voice. That is IP you need to own. Can externals help you find that tone or experience? Yes. But be part of that process, make sure you become the custodian of that IP.
When partnering, you can de-risk this IP collaboration by getting the right partners. Ensure these are long term relationships that are built for the right tasks. The more your partners understand you and your customers, the more value you can add.
How do you qualify the right partner?
How do you do this? Spend time with a prospective partner and grill them. Find people who think like you want them to to (not just how you currently think); people who care for their staff, pay them well and encourage creativity – assuming these are some of the values of your own business.
The people who work within your partners will become champions of your IP; they are the ones who look for ways to evolve and protect it. So trust them, and create awesome results!