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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Walker

Q8: Enforcing IP Rights Through Legal Action

Updated: Feb 7, 2022


As I’ve written about previously, one facet to IP rights is the right to exclude others from using intellectual property that your organization owns. When I wrote this survey I didn’t know how applicable this question might be for the small sample group. I was actually pleasantly surprised that more than half opted to answer the question.

Question about enforcement of Intellectual Property rights through legal action.
Q8 from 2014 IP Survey

Their responses broke out this way:

  • Four (4): Had enforced their rights through legal action

  • Five (5): Had not enforced their rights through legal action

  • One (1): Did not know

The low response rate to this question could indicate that the question was unclear to respondents, or, for some reason, they were unwilling to answer. Those that did answer indicate that nonprofits are willing to defend their IP rights, though we do not know to what extent, since legal action can take many forms.

Diving Deeper into Nuance: Defending Valuable Assets

During my background research it was clear that IP assets have the potential to generate value in ways that go beyond the balance sheet. They are strategically valuable to talent attraction and retention, customer loyalty and experience, creating or defining a niche, and leverage partnerships to develop new IP, products, or services with others. Outside of the sophisticated management of IP in higher education institutions it wasn’t clear how valuable, both as a revenue generator and strategic asset, nonprofits considered their IP. There was no centralized data on legal enforcement of nonprofit IP rights, though there are articles available that highlight protectionist behavior by some organizations. A few examples can be found here, here, and here.

The goal of the question was to get a first glimpse into whether, if applicable, nonprofits felt their intellectual property was valuable enough to enforce through legal action, which can be expensive and time consuming for the IP owner. The organization would need to weigh the potential loss from infringed IP against the potential costs of legal action. In the case of the sample group, a fifth of total respondents experienced infringement and sought legal recourse to defend its assets. Of the quarter that did not pursue legal action it’s not clear whether they had identified infringers or not.

In any case, the responses do clarify and affirm that a significant portion of nonprofits recognize the value of their IP assets and are willing to enforce their legal rights to exclude others. This mirrors what we see in industry and more data collection may give us a clearer picture of the scope of action nonprofits take to enforce exclusion from the IP assets.


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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