Every so often, a phenomenon sweeps through our culture, like Marie Kondo’s “KonMari” system of simplifying and organizing your home. Built on the backbone of her best-selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo identifies a series of intentional steps designed to help you declutter your surroundings. The end result? A healthier, happier, more balanced and “joy-” filled life.
The KonMari movement has extended well beyond the threshold of personal spaces, treading even by some into the more intimate “decluttering” of personal relationships. It is no wonder, really, because the proclaimed method is as practical as it is professorial. Generally speaking, the steps include gathering, sorting, discarding and replacing, all of which are common sense steps that, in fact, translate quite nicely beyond one’s personal life and well into one’s business life.
Take for example your company’s intellectual property. Applying the general KonMari principles of decluttering to your IP assets can yield a healthier, more balanced IP portfolio, one that is highly nimble and responsive to your IP strategy and also better suited to your overall corporate strategy, as shown below:
Gather: First, take stock of your IP. As Kondo would say, “clutter represents indecisions.” Meandering IP clutter is no different, so it is time to get a grip on it. Determine with intention what patents, trademarks, copyrights, domain names, trade secrets and trade dress assets you own and then ascertain the status of each. This includes not only “formalized” assets, like published or issued patents and registered trademarks and copyrights, but also assets that generate value through your ongoing use, such as websites, unregistered taglines, slogans, graphical designs, copy, manuals and the like. Compile these assets into one place to create an IP asset “heap.” Gathering your IP assets into one place will give you a sightline over — and insight into — your entire IP portfolio.
Sort: Second, categorize your IP “heap” into patents, trademarks, copyrights and the like. Then sub-categorize them, such as patent applications to be filed, patent applications pending, patents issued, patents expiring, etc. Breaking your IP down into categories and subcategories will help you better appreciate the size, scale and scope of your assets and quickly identify what no longer belongs in your IP portfolio. Categorizing and subcategorizing your IP also will highlight any stray IP assets that do not fit into any current category on your list, “loose ends” or “komono” that Kondo would say need to be “tidied” up.
Discard: Third, deliberately and diligently discard assets that no longer “inspire” your IP portfolio. In the personal organization sense, Kondo would counsel you to keep only those things that “spark joy” or “move you.” In the professional organization sense, you should keep only those things that breathe life into your bottom line or that inure to your business’s strategic benefit. In other words, against the backdrop of your IP strategy, you must decide exactly which patents, trademarks, etc. you should keep and which you should discard. You can discard them by allowing certain assets to lapse or expire, by selling them to a third party or by licensing them to another to create a new revenue stream for your business. Regardless of how you discard them, you should examine each asset on its own merits — critically and intentionally — to determine whether keeping the asset is in your best interest.
Replace: Finally, evaluate and replace your IP portfolio with any assets that will help propel your IP strategy forward. After discarding superfluous IP assets, you should have a new “heap” that is lean and streamlined but one that may also beg for a good rounding out. Look for holes. For example, do your trademarks and copyrights align with your patents? Do new trademark or patent applications need to be filed given your research and development initiatives? With the cost savings realized by eliminating aging or expired IP assets, you will have a more robust budget for pursuing assets that will enable you to more offensively and defensively wield your portfolio in the commercial marketplace.
See? Four easy, KonMari-esque steps to a healthier, more balanced IP portfolio. As Kondo would say, “The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.” This is absolutely true for your business assets, and it is critically true for your IP assets.
It’s time to tidy up.
Mary C. Bonnema is a partner at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP where she advises companies on all aspects of trademark law. She can be reached at email@example.com.