• Michelle Walker

Which Way Now?


Sign post with arrow pointing in several directions.

After all of that reading I knew more about intellectual property law and economics, theories of justice and knowledge, and the landscape of innovation. I did not know any more about intellectual property in nonprofit organizations, though. I took the new concepts to the library and did some new searches of the nonprofit literature.


Everything came up empty.


I had a notebook full of questions and there was nowhere for me to go with it because it seemed that no one else had asked these questions. If they had, they did not publish about it.


The only way to satisfy my curiosity would be to do my own research and see what answers emerged. I felt dizzy with the prospect of it though, how and where to even start?! The nonprofit sector is large, diverse, and operates in a variety of ecosystems.


Reflecting on What I Learned

I knew that I had worked at organizations that used their intellectual property for strategic purposes.


I knew that there were nonprofit organizations and founders who were considered social entrepreneurs, which suggested some form of innovation for social problems. Innovation often results in some form of intellectual property.


I knew that higher education had developed a robust technology transfer system for moving intellectual property out of their nonprofit institutions and into the marketplace. But, that practice didn't seem to have a corollary in most other nonprofit sub-sectors.


I knew that there wasn't any data on intellectual property creation, management, or strategy outside of higher education's use of technology transfer.


Narrowing the Scope

There were two things that occurred to me. First, I had not found anything about the way in which foundations - private, family, corporate, or community - think about intellectual property created by their grant funds. Second, if social entrepreneurs/social enterprises were actually creating innovations that might be a small enough target audience with one common denominator to make any survey feasible: innovations that created intellectual property.


My next task was to see if there was anything from the funder perspective on the development of intellectual property in nonprofits. Then I would see if my definition of social entrepreneurship would hold water.



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