International work disruptions are not the norm and, when they happen, they can feel paralyzing. Daily work and life routines drift to a halt. Streets empty, transportation trickles and our relationships retreat. It’s like someone hit “pause” on our personal and professional practices.
But professional “pauses,” if managed strategically, can bolster your business arsenal. We call this a “power pause.” A power pause is particularly advantageous in intellectual property. It affords businesses much needed time to dust off IP portfolios, reassess IP strategies and root around the corners of the business for yet-to-be protected IP.
From our team to yours, here are eight things you can do right now with your IP to get an edge on your competition:
- Identify the “crown jewels.” Audit, evaluate and button up the patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade dress, trade secrets and domain names that are critical to your business and foundational to your success. Make sure you have identified your crucial “crown jewels” — the assets your business just couldn’t do without — in every geographic market in which you do business. Also ensure that you have maximum patent, copyright and trademark protection for them.
- Take stock of your IP inventory. Seriously, what’s in your IP wallet? Take inventory of your IP by identifying what patents, trademarks, copyrights, domain names, trade secrets and trade dress assets you own and figure out the status of each one. Further, make sure products and packaging are properly marked with relevant patent and trademark notices. Also review licensing agreements and royalty reports for accuracy and compliance.
- Recalibrate your IP inventory. With a new sightline over your IP, keep only those things that make money, provide a strategic benefit or align with your organization’s purpose. Decide which patents, trademarks, etc. you should keep and which you should discard. Allow superfluous assets to lapse or expire. Better yet, sell them to a third party or license them to create a new revenue stream.
- Supplement your IP inventory. Replenish, replace or reinvigorate your IP portfolio by reviewing your IP strategy and taking steps to bolster that portfolio with new and necessary IP that will propel your business forward. Take a step back and consider whether there are ways to expand your portfolio with low-cost, low-maintenance options such as copyright registrations for your key written materials, images and software. With the cost savings realized by recalibrating your IP, you’ll have a more robust budget for pursuing assets more fully aligned with that strategy.
- Peel back your competitors’ sheets. Whether you are a fast follower or a trend setter, it’s a jungle out there. Don’t let competitors eat your IP lunch. Conduct an IP landscape search on your key competitors’ IP to see in which direction they are headed. Consider strategically fencing them in with your own refreshed IP strategy.
- Steer the course. For the IP assets you own and wish to maintain, review any upcoming maintenance deadlines and compile all necessary information for ensuring such assets are renewed or maintained. No need to wait until the last minute to maintain these assets so long as the renewal window is open. In fact, it is far better to not wait; getting an early start on renewals can stave off the risk of unexpected events and the delays that are already beginning to bog down the system.
- Defend your turf. Is a competitor, counterfeiter or other interloper treading on the toes of your IP rights? You won’t know if you don’t look. Spend some of your down time conducting Google and social media searches to identify those whose unauthorized activities may be undercutting the goodwill and economic value of your hard-earned IP assets. So often, a well-timed warning letter from legal counsel can deter activities that would have become much more damaging down the road if left unchecked.
- Don’t let your guard down. The primary culprits for lost trade secrets and data breaches are mistakes by your own employees. New and unexpected remote work routines can contribute to reduced vigilance in ensuring your confidential information isn’t overheard or intercepted. Remind your team that, now more than ever, they share the responsibility of keeping your data and proprietary information safe and secure.
Mary C. Bonnema and Brian D. Wassom are both partners at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP. Bonnema concentrates her practice on IP licensing, strategy and portfolio management and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wassom litigates disputes in commercial and intellectual property matters and can be reached at email@example.com.