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"How to protect your IP" sends the wrong message

IP = Intellectual Property and normally refers to the knowledge (not merely information) that an organisation holds dear to its heart. For instance, Google's algorithm that determines what appears in the search results would be amongst Google's most precious IP.

Today I read an article by Bernadette Cooney in the Wellington Today magazine* entitled, "How to protect your IP" which outlined the standard ways of protecting your IP - go pick up a copy of the mag for her thoughts.

My initial thought however was, this whole approach is wrong. Trying to "protect your IP" instantly puts the organisation culture into a "let's stop the hordes getting in" which then normally stops anyone/anything trying to get out and we end up with organisations with fixed, impermeable and policed boundaries leading to people treating outsiders as "them". All jolly well and fine if you never want to partner with anyone, collaborate with anyone or even just talk with people. But I bet you do.

An example from the software world. Microsoft has IP within it's code which it protects with all it's might and resources. This has lead to a very combative culture and one that definitely sees it as "us" vs "them", even with it's partners.

Another example closer to my home would be Telecom NZ ... similar sort of deal and we know how they were perceived, hard to work with, closed minded and wanting it all for themselves.

To be fair on both Microsoft and Telecom, they are going through pains at the moment trying to sort this out. When they finalise their internal agonies I suspect they will end up with:
  1. "Closed is us and we're happy so leave us alone"
  2. "Come and get it"
  3. A little from '1' and a little from '2' - the worst position as it's just confusing to all
If, however, these organisations had started from a different point they might have different outcome. How about "How can we share our IP?" or, "How can we partner around our IP?"

This doesn't in any way mean give it away for free!
What it does mean is looking very VERY hard at what we can share and then doing so. It will very quickly mean the business will have to truly define its 'secret sauce' - what is the actual real and definable IP that makes a difference which will then probably be locked away and so it should be.

But the rest ... share it with your partners, let them see the internal workings of the company, bring them in through the corporate boundaries and work together.

As Chris DiBona (Google's Open Source Programs Manager) recently said in a magazine thatIforgetthenameofbutnexttimeI'minthelibraryI'llgetitforeveryone and therefore I paraphrase, "When we looked around there's an awful lot we can open source ... but we'll never open source the search algorithms, obviously"

* issue 65, May/June 2008