Intellectual property has become quite the ‘catch phrase’ for perceived ownership of what a company conceives, creates or produces. In fact it’s only a part of the whole picture – the legal part, to be exact. While licencing and trademarking your brand and the items you sell is critical, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your total knowledge advantage.
Technology alone doesn’t deliver any benefits; it can enable us to work better and smarter, and improving our performance with what we know and what we learn is what gives us the edge. So, let’s back up a bit and take a look at how your company’s information assets are managed and interact, and then we’ll see how intellectual property rights come into play.
Fully grasping what makes your business unique – and then identifying, organising, sharing and analyzing that knowledge to your advantage – has much to do with the way you will ultimately be positioned in your industry. Whether you’ve been established for some time already, or are just at a good business starting point, getting a handle on the way knowledge works is going to be invaluable.
In order to uncover and identify your company’s distinctive and potentially proprietary knowledge, there are four areas to explore:
- Staff – their experience and skills, hobbies and talents; basically whatever they bring to the table.
- Documents – your purchases, sales, research, contracts, training videos, etc.
- Methods – your operation techniques and the way your products are designed, the formulas and architecture.
- Concepts – ideas for your future development
If you’re effective in the management of the knowledge you have gathered, then you will be sharing it across departments. This will not only boost morale, it will encourage your workers to come forward with new information or critical data that could move the business to greater success. They will learn from each other, improving efficiency and productivity.
Ways in which you might share more effectively could be:
- Innovation workshops
- Brainstorming sessions
- Secure intranet communication (within the business)
- Extranet which allows participation from clients or vendors
- Social software and team networking for easy sharing
- Continual training – to share new knowledge and best practices
- Create a knowledge bank – by maintaining and (updating) your company’s information on a shared system which can be openly accessed and added to by the staff.
And, here’s where that intellectual property fits into the mix. Let’s see which types of knowledge need to be protected, and why:
- Employees – establishing proper employment policies which prevent them from going directly to a competitor, or creating a rival business.
- Intellectual property rights – will stop others from copying or licencing your company knowledge and profiting.
- Reliable storage – and a recovery system is vital, and should be an efficient method of storing your documents and records that works for your company and its operations.
Types of Knowledge
Following is a list of several ways to collect and form your knowledge base, with a brief description of how each of them might benefit your business:
- Market knowledge – is needed in order to see how the industry you operate in is evolving, so that you may continue to improve or adapt the products or services that you sell. Watch for trends to be sure that you keep your edge in competitive fields.
- Customer knowledge – is really your most valuable information. Communicate with and ask your clients what they need and elicit their opinions of your business (surveys are a great tool). This will improve your customer service, and aid in future decisions of products and even employees to bring on board.
- Business environment – is comprised of many elements; politics, economics, societal norms, legal regulations, advances in technology and even the effects on our environment.
- Professional associations – as well as trade shows will keep you up on all the latest developments in your industry, and allow you to personally observe key competitors. Memberships in trade organisations are worth the investment, and even magazine subscriptions and newsletter feeds will provide added value.
- Scientific and technical research – relevant to your products or services is, of course, integral knowledge. Find a way to stay updated or your business could suffer.
- The Internet – is an incredible resource, but remember that everything on the web comes from people (and they can make mistakes). Check the information you find to verify its accuracy before putting it into use.
When you combine the resources, garnered from both technical and human input, share and protect the data and use the process to increase efficiency, reduce unnecessary risks and make the best of any new opportunities – you now have the knowledge advantage!