Your business has management programs and systems for your products, inventory and customers. But what about your most valuable business asset?

Many companies are first to market with their new product or technology, yet never reap the benefits of their investment. A big reason is they lack the right management system. They failed to manage their intellectual property effectively, both internally and externally.

Whether it’s technology and software, formulations or brands, IP is at the core of your business and is what sets your products or services apart, gives you a competitive advantage, and is the basis for your company value and future revenues.

Innovation is the lifeblood of your business. Keeping your business IP intact helps protect its value, and reduces the possibilities of IP leakage through accidental or unauthorized non-confidential disclosures. Imagine what happens if one of your employees accidentally discloses crucial IP information while updating his/her status on social networking sites? If your employees don’t have a basic understanding of IP confidentiality, how can this kind of disclosure be controlled?

Innovation management starts at the top. A 2010 survey of small and mid-size businesses found over 70% lacked an understanding about their IP and it’s relevance to their business. And a recent study of UCLA graduate engineering students revealed over 60% didn’t even understand the different types of intellectual property. That’s why it’s imperative your business sets up an IP management program, so your employees understand what it is and how to protect and manage it. At the very least, they need a basic understanding of IP – whether it’s a patent, trademark or trade secret and if they have access to it, making sure they understand how to keep it intact.

A good IP management program will encourage employees to share their inventions. It provides employees the how and where to give ideas, and it ideally also offers rewards to inventors that take part — such as special recognition in the company or monetary rewards.

Regular training sessions of staff on intellectual property are key and should include identifying and protecting company IP, employee confidentiality agreements, tracking all ideas and new IP development, and guidance for working with outside vendors, suppliers and other work-for-hire independent contractors.

Setting up an IP management program also makes your business more attractive to investors. A 2013 study from the UK found that IP awareness programs helped startups and small businesses better communicate their IP story to investors, who are increasingly focused on funding IP rich companies.

IP management also extends outside your business, and includes legal advice in preparing IP registrations (such as patent applications), monitoring the market for potential infringement (and the plan of what action you’ll take) and professional advice on ways to leverage your IP assets beyond your core products, services or technologies.

Several options are available for training and setting up an IP management program. There are companies offering training and workshops tailored to the type of IP assets your business owns. Training is offered both live and through e-courses. Examples of training classes include IP basics, protecting IP, managing documents, maintaining confidentiality, working with partnership agreements, and how to prevent IP theft. If you’re doing business internationally, there are training classes on the trade related issues of IP.

An IP management program is part of your overall IP strategy. It’s how you’ll manage and protect your IP assets both internally and externally. It safeguards your IP by giving your employees a procedure – whether its developing new products, designing a website, programing source code or formulating a new drug – for using and managing those IP assets to keep them intact. But don’t wait until a crisis hits to set up an IP management program. Once an employee walks off with some trade secrets, or you discover a competitor using your technology, at that point, it turns from a training task to a legal nightmare.

If you’re interested in what an IP awareness training is like, check out the IP Awareness Assessment online test at the USPTO . It’s about a 30 minute test, and it will provide a quick assessment of how well you understand IP, and how to protect and manage it.

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