I then asked respondents whether the organization has any written policies regarding the intellectual property assets. Written policies are not necessary for having internally understood standards or expectations of management regarding organizational decisions and processes. However, in this context, written policies were chosen as a way to determine the more thoughtfulness than just awareness of the intellectual property assets by the governance team (senior staff leadership and the board of directors). Commiting to writtne policies suggests a higher order of attention and/or fiduciary duty paid to the organization’s intellectual property assets.
The 19 respondents shared the following:
Ten (10) organizations have written policies about intellectual property.
Eight (8) organization do not have written policies about intellectual property.
One (1) responded did not know if the organization had written policies about intellectual property.
Although 16 of the 19 respondents have undertaken the required protocols to legally protect their intellectual property rights in ownership and exclusion just 10 organizations have explicit internal controls guiding the management of their IP.
I then asked the 10 organizations with written policies to describe the nature of those policies. The goal of this question was to compare how nonprofit governance teams are or are not thinking about the management of IP assets like their industry counterparts. I offered eight distinct policies that are common in industry and an “other” option with a text field.
The number of respondents that selected each policy precedes each option:
Six (6): Licensing of intellectual property
Five (5): Sale or transfer of intellectual property
Nine (9): Safeguarding of intellectual property through non-disclosure agreements when partnering with other organizations
Five (5): Registration of intellectual property with relevant governmental agencies (e.g., U.S. Patent Office)
Six (6): Using intellectual property as a strategic tool
Five (5): Enforcement of intellectual property rights through legal means (e.g., patent enforcement or copyright infringement)
Four (4): Non-compete clause in employment agreements
Eight (8): Proper use and display of brand and trademark
Zero (0): Other, with text box for further description.
None of the respondents selected all of the policies. The most common policies are non-disclosure agreements and proper use and display. This indicates that the most common management needs that prompt written policies is around safeguarding the IP assets.
The number of organizations indicating more strategic written policies was a bit surprising. In my background research it was clear that industry uses IP assets for the corporate goals of niche protection, revenue generation, attracting investors, recruiting and retaining talent, and business expansion. The respondents indicated that about 20% of the total responding organizations have considered the IP assets in a more strategic light by having written policies that cover: licensing, sale or transfer, legal enforcement, strategic use, and non-compete clauses.
What Does This Tell Us
Again, the survey sample potentially skews towards a heightened awareness and strategic management of IP assets due to the innovative nature of the organizations. However, the fact that this safeguarding and strategic policy usage exists in the sector is important insight into the managerial savvy and fiduciary duty attention landscape of the sector. I used written policies were a proxy for industry-like behavior and it’s clear that a continuum of IP asset management and strategy exists in the nonprofit sector as it does in the for-profit corporate world.
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.