Why Intellectual Property Matters for CIOs

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted Tuesday, March 10, 2009 22:03 PM

Coca-Cola. Chanel No. 5. We're all familiar with these products, but only a few people know what's actually in them, what makes them so special.

These secret recipes that have become secret weapons for their businesses. They're also known as "trade secrets."

For most people, intellectual property is one of the least sexiest topics around. But two experts say these proprietary assets could be the secret weapons to thriving in a competitive global economy.

Mark Blaxill and Ralph Eckardt are managing partners of 3LP Advisors, an investment advisory company focusing on intellectual property. Both came from the ranks of the Boston Consulting Group, where Blaxill headed the strategy practice and Eckardt the intellectual property group. They're also co-authors of The Invisible Edge: Taking Your Strategy to the Next Level Using Intellectual Property (Portfolio Hardcover, March 2009).

To fully realize the potential of IP--and its correlation to knowledge management--CIOs and business executives need to harness the brainpower of their employees. "You talk about institutions having knowledge. That's not true. People have knowledge, not institutions," Eckardt says. "You have to get it out peoples' heads and into documents, into a KM system."

That's easier said than done. Individuals are naturally reluctant to share their ideas (or credit for them) with others, so they tend to horde them inside their own heads. When that happens, the company loses out on competitive advantages. "The ability to draw on the collective knowledge of a group can be a strategic advantage. When you have a large org, there's stuff that's sticky inside," Blaxill says. "The bigger that corpus of corporate knowledge can become, that's worth a lot of money."

Enter CIOs. It's not like they don't have enough to worry about these days, but now they need to become true stewards of the information housed within their company--and their employees' brains. In other words, truly live up to their title of chief information officer.

Today CIOs have a new charge, the authors say: to convert intellectual assets into IP so it can be converted to competitive advantage for the company.

Granted, not all information within a company is valuable or unique. So a big part of the job is to manage the entire library. But more important than that, CIOs and their teams need to install the tools and processes that decipher what's actually advantageous.

"You're not a librarian. You're not a factory manager. You have to manage assets and turn them into something that helps the company win," Blaxill says.

So add that to the list of things CIOs need to conquer this year.

Knowledge management is nothing new, to be sure. But how important is it to your IT strategy or job responsibilities today? What's your company's take on the value of its knowledge?