Many associations are missing big income opportunities by failing to recognize their database and content as valuable intellectual property assets.

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Trade associations support their members in various ways, most often through information, industry resources and professional training. What many trade associations overlook is thinking about their content as intellectual property. And that means missing some big licensing income opportunities.

A good example is the American Dental Association’s licensing program. They re-purpose already-existing products and content and generate $2.5 million annually through licensing. Their licensing program includes the members database, dental procedure codes, print and digital books, an app, related continuing-education programs and licensed articles and other related content.

In addition to content, the ADA’s licensing program increases their brand value by reaching new international markets and increasing public awareness about ADA and the importance of oral health.

A successful licensing strategy focuses on how to use your association IP to maximize royalty revenues. It starts with an inventory of the IP assets so you know what you are working with. The secret is dissecting your IP into parts. For example, when licensing their database, the ADA excludes rights to their members email addresses, which they use exclusively to sell their own products directly to members.

Royalty fees can be structured based on the IP use. In the case of a database, it can be a fixed rate royalty based for a one time promotional use, or an annual royalty based on unlimited use rights. A third option is licensing to one or more list brokers for an annual royalty fee, revenue split or percentage of sales. These are often sub licensing deals, where the list broker re-licenses the database to other users.

Control on how your database IP is used is also important. It’s best to create “licensee guidelines” (e.g. Standards and Procedures manual) of permissible uses. An annual usage audit is another way of making sure your licensees are complying with their usage rights.

Your association database and content is valuable IP that is unique to your industry. By effectively managing this IP asset, it can be re purposed and licensed to generate more revenues, enhance membership value, increase the association brand, and attract new members.


Rand Brenner is an IP professional whose passion is helping inventors, startups, and businesses of all sizes use licensing to turn their IP into income-producing products, services, and technologies. His decades of experience run the gamut from medical devices to food technology to consumer products. He’s licensed some of the biggest Hollywood entertainment blockbusters including the Batman Movies (1 and 2), and the number one kid’s action TV show, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Rand speaks about licensing and is a featured speaker at investment conferences, trade shows, colleges and startup events.  He’s a published writer with articles appearing in several prestigious trade magazine including The Licensing Journal, Intellectual Property Magazine, and License India. Rand also mentors at the Cal State Fullerton School of Business and Economics and is a judge for their startup business plan competitions.

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