16th mar, 2013

Intellectual Property for utility companies

In a recent edition of a legal magazine published by Danish company Horten there is a piece on intellectual property protection in public utilities.
The message in the piece is that the public companies have to secure their rights to the inventions or innovative efforts.
It is true that there is a lot of innovation in public utilities – both technical and new services – and a few years ago I would have agreed with the opinion that public companies have to secure their rights as do private companies.
However to factors prevent the theoretical possibility from being carried out in real life.
·         Public owned companies – utilities included – are not designed to innovate they are designed for a specific task.
·         Securing a patent or trademark is only a small part of using IP
Firstly public companies – like a water company – is expected to secure water to its customers today and tomorrow. The company is not expected to develop a market or think ahead 5 – 10 years in relation to how solutions will develop. Typically a public company will call in the innovative cavalry when it needs to develop. Consultants will enhance the customer experience, increase online presence or develop a new logo. This means that public companies lack the capacity to develop the bits and pices that could be protected by IP
Secondly if a public water company should find itself as the proud owner of a patent for a new technology…what would they do with it? The company lacks the organization to develop the market around the new technology. One could argue that the company could just create a new department to facilitate the sale of the technology. That brings us around to the purpose of the company and its mindset: to secure water for the customers tomorrow. The company would be reluctant to stray from the foundation of the company.
For IP to be relevant for a public company there must be a be a defined and agreed strategy to explore the possibilities of IP. This is not as easy as it sounds.
I work for a public company which is dedicated to a course that will allow us to create new products and services. That is not the same as the whole company runs in that direction from day one. The first thing we did was to change our organization to support our strategy. The next thing we are working on is to develop an understanding AND acceptance of what and why we are doing it.
There are hundreds of good ideas developed by utility companies which could develop into new markets and benefit many consumers, but for IP to play a role the infrastructure of the company must be right.

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