LAWYERS NEED to be out on the business floor with their clients helping them make more of their intellectual prop
erty (IP), which is too often filed away as a legal asset instead of being used as a way to make vast amounts of money, according to leading IP partners.
Some IP lawyers now approach their clients to tell them that IP can be a valuable business asset, according to Dianne Beer, Holding Redlich IP partner.
“Lawyers need to be out there identifying where [IP opportunities] exist,” she said.
Freehills IP Partner Adam Liberman agreed, arguing that it is an old fashioned view to see IP purely as a legal right. “Australian businesses don’t view it often enough as a business asset,” he said. Lawyers need to be more directly involved in helping their clients’ corporate strategists, marketing and sales people and wherever innovation is happening, according to Beer. Businesses need to become aware that any innovation within their company is IP and could be a valuable business asset, she said.
Sometimes opportunities may lie in the development of new brands, said Beer, and in the way innovation is promoted.
“If you want to convert your competitive ideas into IP, then lawyers have to be there helping you,” she said. “This is massive for businesses,” Beer said. Using Microsoft as an example, Beer said the value of the company is “substantially” greater than the legal assets that they own, and it is IP creating this, she said.
Liberman said a lot of companies have trademark rights, for example, but they are not making the most of them. “There is not enough awareness of these [opportunities],” he said.
In 1982, 32 per cent of the average company asset base was comprised of intangible assets, but by 2000, this had increased to more than 70 per cent, Beer said.
According to Liberman, the value of shares is in excess of tangible assets for about 80 per cent of the value of companies on the US stock exchange. “Part of their value is IP,” he said.
Clayton Utz IT/IP and telecommunications partner Jim FitzSimons agreed that IP can be an “enormous asset and can be put on the balance sheet as an asset”. He said intangible property is very valuable and “just because it is more difficult to deal with than tangible property doesn’t mean it should be ignored”. In fact, quite the opposite,” he said.
One area that is becoming more commonplace is software patents, FitzSimons told Lawyers Weekly. Last year IBM made more applications for patents than any other company. “This shows where software patenting has got to,” he said, suggesting there were more opportunities out there for business in this area.
For example, he said if the first person who made a spreadsheet had been able to get a patent, “they would have been much richer”. Businesses are increasingly making the most of these opportunities and lawyers need to be there to help them, he said.
At Holding Redlich, the firm is encouraging clients to be aware of IP possibilities. As clients begin to understand the value of seeing IP as a business asset, they are approaching Holding Redlich “to find out what more they can do, how to capture the value and maximising and extracting value”, she said.
Australian firms must encourage their clients to work at international best practice standards, said Beer. She argued that if you are supporting an emerging industry, “it is only going to win if it is at the level of the world’s best practice”, suggesting through IP they will be able to make the most of this.