The term “intellectual property” is a legal term that generally relates to copyrights, trademarks, or patents. Each represents an intangible right to some kind of exclusive use of an idea, process, composition, or descriptive word or phrase. Intellectual property, called simply “IP” for short, is very important to both individuals and businesses — anyone who has an idea or product to protect. The process of intellectual property management is the means through which companies and individuals maintain their patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Management can be as simple as keeping all IP rights up-to-date and renewed, or as complicated as researching the market for new IP investment opportunities and monitoring for violations.
Intellectual property management presupposes the existence of IP rights. The management process is concerned with maintaining intellectual property, not with obtaining it in the first place. The most important maintenance strategy, and the most basic element of IP management, is ensuring that all intellectual property is being used to its fullest extent and that the rights are current.
Most intellectual property rights are issued on a term basis. That is to say, they are not typically lifetime rights, and often must be renewed on a regular basis. Patents typically have the shortest initial lifespan, followed by trademarks, and then copyrights. Intellectual property management usually involves a calendar of renewal dates, and a checklist to periodically determine whether all owned rights are actually being used and enforced.
To protect a patent, trademark, or copyright, one must not only keep it current, but must also monitor the marketplace for misuse, and promptly prosecute infringements. In many jurisdictions, non-use or non-enforcement of rights can lead to cancellation, or at least a progressive weakening of the right. An IP owner must take the necessary steps so that rights retain their market exclusivity. Making sure that all rights are protected and are not being abused is a form of intellectual property management.
Intellectual property management also involves analysis and assessment of an IP portfolio’s relative worth. Intellectual property that is owned needs to be maximized in order for the owner to receive the fullest benefit. This can mean escalating advertising efforts or campaigns, better branding a service, or using an existing trademark protection or copyright protection in a new way. Intellectual property management is the process through which the IP owner looks for new ways of exploiting and protecting existing IP rights.
The more rights there are in a given portfolio, the more complicated the task of managing intellectual property. Companies, particularly those who do business in many markets, often have complex IP management plans in place. Corporate intellectual property management is typically handled by a team of IP attorneys or specialists. The largest companies often have IP enforcement and management teams on staff. Others will outsource intellectual property management and intellectual property protection tasks to outside professionals.