011 – A Conversation on Leveraging Intellectual Property as a Business Growth Strategy, with Professor James Gerard Conley

by | May 31, 2017 | 2 comments

Professor James Conley serves on the faculty of both the Kellogg School of Management and the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University. He is a faculty contributor in the Kellogg Center for Research in Technology & Innovation and serves as a Faculty Fellow at the Segal Design Institute (NU IDEA). He is also serving as a Visiting Professor in the chair of technology and innovation management at the WHU in Germany. Beyond Northwestern, he served as an appointed member on the United States Department of Commerce Trademark Public Advisory Committee to the Patent and Trademark Office and is a Charter Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. In 2017, he became a member of the editorial board at the California Management Review.

#PeakPerformers, Professor Conley shares the benefits of IP for the entrepreneur #TheEntrepYou today! Click To Tweet
Show  Notes:

If given a chance, which person would you like to be for a day? Or who would you like to exchange roles with?I would like to be Mark Zuckerberg for a day because I would like the understand the nature of the social engagement that he manages uniquely on the Facebook platform. I would like to see how he is managing the uniqueness of all that to the benefit of, not just the people that work at Facebook nor the people that participate on Facebook, but for people like you and I who are relative strangers, but we seeing the world engage on this platform in a way that’s brought us all much closer together.

When we talk about intellectual property, what are we really talking about?

What we are talking about, are things that are established by a nation’s government. Laws that are established by a nation’s government that are designed to help people who innovate, people who actually come up with new concept.

There are various modes of legal protection to help entrepreneurs compete when they decide to do something different than everyone else in their field of business. That difference usually requires some investment. It may be a difference that brings about some form of technological solution; it may be a difference that brings about some new cultural narrative; it may be a difference that brings about some form of product that has unique branding and it may be a difference that that is simply taking something that the entrepreneur knows, that not too many other people know.  What I’ve just described are domains of property that relate to things like patent, copyright, trademarks and trade secrets.

I’m thinking specifically of the artiste who influenced me when I was younger, Bob Marley. This man has created a great legacy of cultural expression. He is protected by a Copyright that is an intellectual property form. That allows him and his estate to capture some value from the work that he put in from those beautiful expressions of his youth that in some sense give some foundation to what Jamaica is today.

Are you saying that the laws that govern intellectual property differ from territory to territory?

The world that we live in is essentially one that follows a guideline of self- determination. Jamaica makes its own laws like Tunisia makes its own laws. They choose their own government Just like the United States, just like Cuba. That means if the government chooses to have intellectual property, that’s their choice. They generally try and do this because it is good for the entrepreneurs like you and the audience of this podcast.  The governments generally try to help entrepreneurs, they want to give them advantages so they create these laws.

The World Intellectually Property Office (WIPO) – an entity in Geneva which operates in the same way for example as the World Health Organization operates, is trying to makes these intellectual property laws similar across the globe so it easy for entrepreneurs to capture their property in multiple countries. If you come up a fabulous fashion line like a wonderful brand name such as Patwa (Apparel), you have to make sure that brand name is respected in multiple counties. You can register your trademark in several countries and expect that the laws you encounter in Jamaica will also be similar in other countries that you may want to sell your fashion line and invest in the advertising that builds meaning of the word Patwa to multiple market and customers.

What is the importance of effectively managing IP for business growth?

This topic that we are addressing is one that is actually taking these ideas about intellectual property and the knowledge of it and trying to turn it into a language that is liberated from the lawyers. IP rights are typically the domain of the lawyers but management of intellectual property is typically the responsibility of the entrepreneur or the manager or the executive that is running a business.

The reason you have to think about this is because it is really a manager’s choice to invest in the legal cost of property. That means management must be able to think about the IP in terms of marketing, finance, strategy – what is the logic of doing what we are doing? In the case of Patwa, what is the logic of registering in the United States? You must be planning on selling your goods in the United States. That’s really a management decision. Where ae you going to sell? How are you going to sell? What is the difference that you will be presenting to your customers about your goods relative to competitors? These are management decisions but they, at the very core, involve property because they are trying to help you differentiate yourself relative to everyone else. Effective management of intellectual property is about taking complex issues of the law and turning them into things that management speak about on a daily basis and make good decisions about for the purpose of their own sustainability in the market place.

When are the implications for SMEs in considering registration of their intellectual property?

Small and medium sized enterprises are perennially and chronically challenged by resource constraints. What they have typically is a lot of passion and desire to be successful in the market place. They just need a selling proposition, that means they need the ability to convince others to buy their products and or invest in their business. This is what the community of venture capitalists is looking for – that sparkling SME where they can invest their money.

The choice to not pursue property may be because they just don’t have the money. That’s a perfectly fine choice. It is in fact a Manager’s choice. That may be effective given what are your resource limitations at a particular point in time. What’s important for the manager to realize is that if they don’t invest, then they are essentially contributing all that good will to the competition. They can use my Patwa brand, they can play Bob Marley’s music, they can use the invention that you may come up with, for example in your clothing line and you can’t do anything about that.

The investment in property is one to reserve your unique expression, your unique inventions. It is a cost-benefit analysis. It must be in the minds of the SME owner, in the mind of the entrepreneur so they can see consciously, what the tradeoffs are. Typically, the best time to invest in property is when you’re small.

Intellectual Property within the paradigm of the digital platform?

Let’s take Blue Mountain Coffee, that as a product has a lot of infrastructure, lots of farmers, lots of machines, devices, lots of physical capital that are required to invest and build and harvest and bring that product to market. That’s all fixed physical assets and there is a lot of money involved in building and maintaining those assets.

Let’s go to (back) to Facebook which doesn’t have those fixed physical assets. What does Facebook have? It has a platform, we all know how to find that platform – we log to find our friends pages, we find the pages of Patwa and all sorts of other companies there. It is a platform that essentially is a computer infrastructure that allows us as people who interact with Facebook to put stories, links, pictures on what is our portion of the platform – our Facebook page. Everything that we put up there, we physically own that but when we put it up there, we agree to let Facebook use it to their commercial benefit. That’s part of the legal agreement, that we as photographers, we as story tellers, we as people that create product like your company, we agree to actually let Facebook capture the value through advertising and other mechanism to try and convince folks that they have a large audience on the Facebook platform.

All of this that we are describing, you putting your content up there, the audience being convinced to come and engage with you through Facebook, the potential clients that may want to advertise to you – all of these are parties that want to collaborate. But the right to do that is completely intangible. Facebook has the brand which means they have the address, they have the computer infrastructure which has all sorts of interesting inventions that have all sorts of associated with it. When we go and place pictures up there, we are bringing the copyrighted expression to the party that is Facebook.

Facebook becomes the place we all go to have a socially engaging experience and so that’s very much a digital phenomenon. It’s not the phenomenon of growing the coffee, hauling the many pounds of coffee to the coast, getting them on the ship and sending them across world. That’s an important commercial endeavour but Facebook is completely digital. It does not require the movement of physical goods. The capturing of audiences does not require the infrastructure of the physical world.

Main Take-Aways:

  • IP laws that are established by a nation’s government, designed to help people who innovate, people who come up with new concept.

  • There are various modes of legal protection to help entrepreneurs compete when they decide to do something different than everyone else in their field of business.

  • Entrepreneurs typically have a lot of passion and desire to be successful in the market place.


Professor Conley’s Research

Connect with Professor James Gerard Conley



Question of the Day:

How are you leveraging your intellectual property as part of your business growth strategy? Do leave a comment below.

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