Around the turn of the century, I ran across a study that was conducted to look at changes in the way businesses leveraged assets to execute their business model between the 1970s and the 1990s. Reading the results of that survey was an “Aha!” moment for me, and it contributed significantly to my thinking about how we would do business in the 21st century.
Study author and intellectual property attorney, Kenneth Krosin, found that in the late 1970s, corporate assets amounted to about 70% fixed assets, like buildings, equipment, tools, fixtures, inventory, etc., and about 30% intangible assets, a/k/a intellectual property (IP), such as patents, trademarks, licensing and trade secrets. But the big news in this study was that by the end of the 20th century, those asset category percentages had essentially inverted. By 1999, businesses were leveraging around 70% IP, and only 30% were assets that had serial numbers, stock numbers or an address.
Welcome to the Digital/Information Age.
In the speeches I deliver to small business owners around the country every year, I describe the findings of the Krosin study so I can poll the audience about how they’re leveraging IP. My unscientific findings show that, while most small businesses are not quite leveraging IP to fixed assets at a 70:30 ratio like the big businesses in the Krosin study, most are leveraging IP more every year and fixed assets less.
Besides the types of intellectual property - patents, etc., - there are two categories of IP: 1) the kind that someone else creates, for example, the patented software you license to use on your computer; and 2) the kind that a business creates for itself, like a delivery scheme developed internally that reduces fuel costs, which is often employed as a trade secret.
In the 21st century, it doesn’t really matter who creates the IP your small business is leveraging, as long as you’re continually finding new ways to do so. I believe that any small business that isn’t leveraging IP more and tangible assets less is headed for extinction.
I’m happy to report that Kenneth Krosin (foley.com) has become a member of my Brain Trust and has joined me several times on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, to talk about IP and small business. I think you’ll enjoy my most recent interview on this topic with Ken. And don’t forget to leave a comment.