Ignore IP at your peril

IP – or Intellectual Property – is a term we often hear when we’re speaking with our clients.

Traditionally it has referred to the ownership of ideas and technologies utilised within a specific industry; patented methodology as well as protected designs. It is synonymous with non-disclosure and ‘trade secrets’ and conjures up images of vaults and safes where information is stashed away from the risk of industrial espionage…

With the progression of this current digital age, IP is an aspect of business which is generally given less press than AI but it could be of equal (if not even slightly higher) importance to the success or demise of an organisation. The reason? Without ownership of the technology required to progress, there are major restrictions on any company wishing to keep up with – never mind actively exploit – new developments. AI will undoubtedly play a major part in transforming the way things are done and made but without IP there may be nothing to do or make without first having to buy the rights to do so.

It is the so-called ‘disruptors’ who are bringing new ideas into traditional manufacturing; new kids (with no reference intended to age) who do not necessarily have any direct connection to the industry they are looking to change – e.g. they may be digital giants entering the automotive sector with no idea of the nuts and bolts end of the operation – but with a very clear view of where automation will take the end-product.

Sticking with the example of car manufacturing, the incumbents may see the benefits to be made from the integration of the new technologies, but they then must fast-track their learning on the subject and assess what routes are still open to them to follow the trend without incurring significant obstacles, or indeed costs. In simple terms, if the rights to a new way of doing things are owned by another party, then they must either come up with a work-around or pay for the privilege to use the technology within their own operation. As we’ve covered in past blogs, manufacturing is still an area where productivity is key and costs are closely aligned to units produced, so high spends on apparently intangible digital assets could be a difficult sell to board members.

What’s more, our long-standing traditional industries have a high value attributed to their existing IP even although it may have little relevance within the future of their operation. Do they simply write this off and then spend vast amounts on trying once again to get ahead of the digital curve (most probably buying in the expertise which was never a necessary part of their existing structure)? Sadly, for some that is indeed the stark reality of what future survival, never mind dominance, looks like.

On a more positive note, we are currently at a stage where we speak of ‘emerging technology’ and this means that there are still opportunities for those with the right mind-set to be part of the surge rather than having to play catch-up. Our industries cannot simply be distracted by AI without considering the implications for IP. Review of existing systems and consideration of future needs may already play a part in business strategy but, essentially, digital and data needs must now also be included – and, of course, the protection of these new assets by means of an appropriate cyber security system.

At RDZ we don’t have a direct involvement with the IT needs of the businesses with which we work, but in planning for their future success we must keep abreast of any challenges which they might face (over and above those associated with raising profile). Fast growing, forward-thinking manufacturers have become somewhat of a ‘speciality’ of ours and our success is, we think, in no small part due to us gaining an understanding of what might be crucial for them to address now and in the future. IP is certainly a topic we will be following with great interest.