Let’s take IBM as an example. IBM Corporation maintains one of the world’s most vigorous patent filing operations, and actively licenses its 40,000-plus active patents to other companies. Although other corporations around the world may manufacture products based on IBM IP, IBM holds the original patent, so they make money without incurring additional expenditures or risks.
You don’t have to be a huge company to take advantage of this IP revenue stream. Even as an individual or entrepreneur, you can still benefit from owning intellectual property. Your IP may not be hard goods that you can sell directly to consumers, but they are investments that can earn you money for years to come.
The Traditional IP Revenue Methods
Traditionally, there are three main ways to make money from IP:
1. Exploit it. Simple enough, this means you use your IP to create a product, and then sell it yourself.
2. License it. Let someone else pay you to use your IP, such as a patent. They’ll either pay you a one-time fee or you could earn a royalty on every sale.
3. Sell it off. Sometimes, it makes more sense to sell full ownership of your IP to a third party for a one-time fee. This works especially well if the idea is risky, or if it will take more capital than you can pull together in order to fully exploit it.
Non-Traditional IP Revenue Methods
Beyond these three traditional avenues, individuals can quickly and easily benefit from their IP by taking it in several additional directions.
1. Look at it askew. Sometimes all it takes to create new IP is to take your previous IP and make a slight tweak.
With patents, you can often make subtle (or not-so-subtle) improvements to your original and file what is known as an Improvement Patent, which builds upon a previous idea or invention and turns it into something new. Bingo, your new patent is ready for its own exploitation or licensing.
2. Document and share your original research. Think about how your IP was created in the first place. What made it possible for you to successfully create it? What research did you conduct? What processes and procedures did you have in place? What makes your IP unique?
Once you’ve answered these questions, ask yourself one more: Can others learn from your actions? If so, try writing articles about your success or your techniques. Trade magazines in your industry want to hear your ideas, and can often pay well for you to tell your story.
3. Talk about it. You did the research, and you created the IP, which means that you know the subject better than anyone else. So start talking about it.
Conferences, local technical meetings, professional societies, and other events are always looking for interesting and effective speakers. Speaking engagements are a great way to engage your audience, share your success, brand your company, and earn speaking fees at the same time.
Speaking engagements are great opportunities to meet potential customers, to expand your contacts, to give back to your industry, or to reach the press with your unique story.
Speaking of which, reporters are always looking for interesting people to profile, or for experts to contact when they are writing about a specific subject. By establishing yourself as an expert source, the next person they interview could be you. Sure, you won’t be paid actual money if you’re interviewed or if someone else writes about you, but good publicity for you and your company are payment enough in the long run.
There—now that you know these techniques, get out there and take advantage of them.
Oh, and then make sure to turn around, create something else, and start the process all over again!
John R. Platt is a freelance writer and marketing consultant who often writes about technology, entrepreneurship, and the environment.