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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Walker

Q18, Q19, Q20 & Q21: Permissions Granted to Licensees

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

The nine organizations that license their intellectual property to other organizations were then asked a series of questions about permission to modify and resell licensed IP. I asked this to get a better understanding of where respondents fit on the spectrum of protection for their IP asset. For example, did they prefer weak or strong IP strategies, which was part of the strategy texts of Lessig, Landes & Posner, and Phelps.

Are licensees permitted to modify the intellectual property for their own purposes? Yes or No answer options.
2014 Survey: Question 18
Do licensees need to seek permission before making modifications to the intellectual property? Yes or no answer options.
2014 Survey: Question 19
Are licensees authorized to give the intellectual property to others as long as they do not charge for it? Yes or no answer options.
2014 Survey: Question 20
Are licensees authorized to sell the intellectual property to others? Yes or no answer options.
2014 Survey: Question 21

The nine organizations shared that:

  • Three (3): Permit licensees to make modifications to the IP to meet licensee needs.

  • Eight (8): Will consider licensee modification if the licensee seeks permission prior to making changes to the IP.

This small sample indicates that though SEs are protective of their assets, perhaps to ensure quality and fidelity, but they are not inflexible.

  • One (1): Permits licensees to resell the licensed IP to other organizations.

  • Three (3): Permit licensees to give the IP to other organizations, but they are not permitted to charge for the IP.

This suggests that organizations fall on a continuum of philosophies on weak vs. strong IP strategies, but respondents in this sample are skewed towards protectionist rather than open source philosophies.

However, it must be noted that the sample of respondents are organizations considered social enterprises, therefore, already primed to recognized and capture their innovations. We can see from the responses that 50% of the respondents have a system for leveraging through licensing – which is a particular strategy tied to a mission-oriented objective. That does not mean the other 50% - those not licensing – aren’t also following a strategy. Rather, their strategy may be best achieved without licensing as a tool.

Diving Deeper into Nuance: Why License IP at All?

This is a very small sample size, so my thoughts here are about my experiences with nonprofits broadly and what the responses to these questions suggest.

As I mentioned in an earlier post on this research, my professional experience had been that nonprofits generate a lot of intellectual capital, intellectual property, and value-added intellectual capital. I had also witnessed a range of strategic management of those assets, which mostly fell on the more protectionist side of the continuum.

But, there is also a very valid question that remains open to inquiry – why license intellectual property at all? Why not just make it available to anyone, anywhere, any time? Wouldn't that make achieving our missions happen faster? (The short answer is: probably not.)

Thinking back through my professional experiences here are some of the motivations, if not pressures, that get governance teams thinking about IP protections, management, and leverage.

  • The particular professional experiences and skills of the management and governance teams were predisposed to recognize intellectual property and its place in the organizational asset portfolio.

  • Feedback from funders or other stakeholders identifying specific intellectual property that then opened the perspective of leadership to the question of "what other IP assets are there and what can we do with them?"

  • The pressure of funders for organizations to diversify revenue through earned revenue – of which licensing IP assets or selling products and services (value-added intellectual capital) is one path.

  • Emerging from opportunistic partnership and collaboration between organizations who want to acknowledge value and assets brought to the shared objectives by naming their assets and how they can be used by the collaborating entities.

I'd be happy to hear from readers about what prompted the leverage of intellectual property at your organization.


You can skip to the summary of all of the responses in the Social Entrepreneurs and Intellectual Property Management paper. Or, read through each of the blog posts tagged as Intellectual Property Data V1.0 for a more recent analysis of the data.

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