Intellectual Property: A Cash Cow or A White Elephant?

Vivek Singh, Head - IP Filing & Prosecution“Do you perceive IP as an expenditure in your annual budget and take it as something which is beyond the reach of a budding enterprise? With respect to your innovation, do you also face a constant dilemma of whether to opt for IP protection or not? If you are sailing in the same boat, then this article would broaden your horizon and change your perception towards IP.

Interestingly, decades ago commercial power and thus, the wealth was primarily in the hands of capitalists, but the time has changed, and has observed a shift of commercial power from tangible to intangible assets. IP doesn’t necessarily have to be something revolutionary, a simple solution to an existing problem, could be a game changer. IP is being generated around us always, the important element is to identify, sow the seeds of its protection followed by reaping the benefits.

In recent years, IP has been given an upthrust by Government of India, which is evident from the initiatives like announcement of nation’s first IP policy (after 69 years of independence), launch of CIPAM, AGNIi (Accelerating Growth of New India's Innovations; under Invest India) and several high-level administrative reforms.

To understand what it takes to be an “IP Savvy” organization, let’s traverse into various stages of IP lifecycle, which are: “IP Generation”, “IP Protection”, “IP Enforcement”, and “IP Commercialization”(last two stages are inter-linked and overlapping).

The IP journey takes off with R&D, wherein the idea is conceptualized at first.R&D process could be sped up by using valuable information disclosed in patents. Smart use of patent documents provides valuable information on state-of the art, which may enable an enterprise to avoid unnecessary wastage of resources, thereby reducing the time and high R&D costs. Patent information could also be used for improvements and/or to design-around.A patent whose equivalent hasn’t been filed for protection in a country of interest, can also be utilized in similar way. You may name it ‘Smart R&D’ (Generation stage).

It’s also important to ensure that the subject invention doesn’t end up infringing IPs of others and therefore,an FTO (Freedom to Operate) evaluation is required to avoid potential risk factors.

In the Protection stage,the invention is filed for protection. Once IP is registered, the IP holder becomes entitled to hold others liable for infringing their IP(Enforcement stage). Finally, the revenue generation stage arrives where investment into the IP is recovered and, monetary gains are made through licensing of core or non-core IP, assignment, and filing of infringement proceedings etc. Illustration pertaining to this stage can be found in the following excerpts (Commercialization stage).

Many times, premature decline of companies is due to lack of implementation of appropriate IP strategies at early stages of their life cycle.For better understanding of commercial angle interlinked with IP, let’s take an illustration of Tivo Corporation,an American Technology Company, which was on the verge of maturity stage in 2017, but miraculously turned their entire revenue stream by adopting IP monetization strategies, and thus, boosted their revenue by 57 percent in 2017 itself.

Lack of resources often drives enterprises to opt for keeping their innovation hidden, in order to avoid the costs of IP protection. Often, these enterprises tend to overlook the possibility of accidental disclosures which eventually lead to snapping the IPs out of their hands.A budding IP savvy company can rather easily partner with dominant players of that sector and ensure accelerated entry and growth in the market.
Let’s now explore some of the parables in the history of IP:

1. Arunachalam Muruganantham: Initiative taken by Arunachalam laid down the foundation of Jayaashree Industries. His innovation made him into a successful entrepreneur, enabling him to provide employment to plenty of women. His breakthrough was “a low-cost sanitary pad machine”was capable of producing sanitary pads at one-third cost of the commercial pads. He patented his invention and has successfully installed it in 23 states.He is the inspiration and source of Bollywood film “Padman”.

2. Bikram Choudhury: Supposedly the Starbucks of yoga world. Bikram makes millions per month by following simple IP strategies.He devised his style of yoga, which comprises of performing a set of asanas and breathing exercises in a humid setup. He registered the“Bikram Yoga” and “Bikram” as TM, and licensing it out for royalty.

3. Kannan Lakshminarayan: An IIT Madras alumnus, who catered to the issues of grassroot weavers of India, by coming up with an invention, the “Carding Machine”, which allows for micro-spinning to be carried out and the resultant being “Malkha”, a differently textured cloth. The carding machine has helped the rural weavers and empowered them to become self-reliant.

4. Shepards: A couple who was fed up of picking their toddler’s treats off the ground, created a spill proof bowl. They did patent registration along with investment and commercialization of the product. The IP protection enabled them to license out their “Gyro Bowl”to corporate giants, like Disney, etc.

There are many such success stories from across the globe, wherein the grass roots innovators, start-ups, MSMEs have made their fortune just by being IP Savvy. You may have come across “American Genius” and “Shark Tank”. In both these TV series, where you will observe IP to be at the core of all the business strategies.

Adopting appropriate IP strategies can turn any business into an evergreen tree with its roots built upon a flow of everlasting revenue and further, it enables an entity to avoid unfortunate encounter of pitfalls of disruption. Thus, IP, true to its name, is an income producing cash cow instead of a pocket burning white elephant, if used wisely.