Intellectual Property (IP) has much more to contribute to safeguarding the environment and climate than just delivering the latest methods of energy generation and biodegradable plastics. Though green patents have an indispensable role to play in the push toward a sustainable future, they are just one way the IP system can be oriented to meet the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals marking out the way ahead.
At Dennemeyer, we have our sights set on enabling organizations of all kinds to meet their “net zero” targets, along the way refocusing management culture to foster an appreciation of the value that IP, in all its forms, holds for ESG aspirations.
Alexander Gangnus is Senior Manager IP strategy and valuation at Dennemeyer Consulting GmbH.
With his years of practical experience in IP strategy development and IP valuation, Alexander helps companies from all over the world develop and secure their competitive edge, mitigate IP risks and determine the monetary value of their IP.
Moreover, he is Dennemeyer Consulting’s dedicated expert on sustainability topics.
What it means to be sustainable
A definition for sustainability can seem very straightforward at first: eco-friendliness. However, putting this concept into practice can be more elusive, and a concrete, tangible outline is needed. That is why, in 2015, United Nations member states unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, defining the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The targets of the Agenda span from ending poverty and reducing inequality to improving health and education. There is also a focus on economic growth while tackling climate change and preserving our oceans and forests.
Sustainability, therefore, incorporates both environmental aspects (such as reducing excess packaging, switching to cleaner fuels and recycling) and broader community awareness that includes responsible use of resources, efficient operations and providing long-term social benefits.
How can IP work toward sustainability?
The rewards and benefits of an ecologically conscious model in business are great, but so are the risks of falling behind. Those who neglect sustainability requirements not only jeopardize the approval of customers and stakeholders but stand to be outclassed by their more innovative competitors. IP already comprises the most valuable assets of most businesses, so the fact that it can be used as a practical means to reach “net zero” is a great advantage. A well-maintained IP portfolio can be an unexpectedly effective tool to improve environmental impact, enhance engagement with social issues and strengthen corporate governance. A greener footprint is not achieved in spite of successful business performance but with it.
Enacting your IP to help you meet ESG obligations is itself a boost to your progress, but there are many other benefits:
IP can help you develop new products and processes that are more sustainable.
IP can help you improve the sustainability of your existing products and processes.
IP can help you protect your sustainable innovations from copycats and infringers.
IP can help you attract investment and partnerships to support sustainable innovation.
IP can help you build a brand identity strongly associated with sustainability.
The principal takeaway is that sustainability aspects can generate added value at almost every stage of the IP life cycle.
Practical steps to enact IP
Undertake an IP portfolio assessment focusing on sustainability aspects and their related KPIs, e.g., patent filings and grants in appropriate Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) classes. The portfolio could also be mapped against the 17 SDGs to see if and to what degree it contributes to a sustainable future. These assessments can help you understand your current level, identify areas for improvement and track your progress over time. As patent information is publicly available, you can also compare your company’s performance to that of competitors by applying the same KPIs to their portfolios as well.
Once you have completed your IP portfolio assessment, you will be able to distinguish “green” value drivers and “dirty” value inhibitors. Based on the evaluation results, you can update your IP and business strategy to foster the “green” and drop the “dirty.” These fields of “green” innovations can be promoted by applying for and enforcing additional IP rights to obtain, expand and maintain exclusivity. The “dirty” portfolio parts, if not business-critical, can be dropped to save on IP renewal costs and reduce administrative workloads. In some cases, they can also be monetized. To do this, cluster relevant IP packages for sale or licensing and survey the immediate business and IP landscapes to find potential buyers in adjacent industries where those technologies are still state of the art.
With your “green” value drivers located, an efficient maintenance and enforcement strategy for exclusive rights is vital. This only grows in importance the more jurisdictions you do business in. You can then employ your SDG-aligned portfolio to create a marketing story that differentiates your company from peers in your industry. Additionally, you can perform a monetary IP valuation with a special focus on sustainability aspects to put a price tag on your “green” portfolio that accurately accounts for its environmental contribution. This can be used to attract investors or demonstrate IP’s worth to overall company value.
Creating and maintaining a sustainable IP department
Of course, not only IP assets can be sustainable. Making good use of automation, lean processes and appropriately-sized portfolios are all part of creating a sustainable IP department, as is promoting a work environment that is healthy, unbiased and ethical.
At the heart of this approach should be a long-term focus on incorporating sustainability into all aspects of IP management to support efficient working and build value. These efforts are best undertaken in cooperation with other parts of the business, with wider strategic decisions being taken following interdepartmental discussions.
Allied to this organizational mindset is sustainable knowledge management. This ensures that IP know-how is retained in the event of business disruption, staff departures or corporate restructuring / realignment. This way, key priorities and plans can proceed with minimal interruption, increasing company efficiency (because time does not have to be wasted on duplicated tasks) and driving business stability (because strategic goals dictate corporate direction).
A holistic and sustainable IP strategy
Orienting IP management to reflect ESG goals will not solve all of the world’s woes, but it is a confident stride in the right direction. Properly upheld by exclusivity rights, green innovations are the catalysts to bring about a sustainable future. Only by advancing the general IP front can these technologies find fertile soil in which to grow.
Thus, the best approach to sustainability in IP is a holistic one. Integrating sustainability aspects into IP and corporate strategy can make significant improvements to everything from invention generation to IP protection strategy, portfolio management, IP valuation and commercialization. Ultimately, the aim is to contribute more significantly to social and ecological goals, ensuring that the IP portfolio and department deliver greater value to the business and the wider world.
This article was based, in part, on our extensive white paper, “Sustainability in the Intellectual Property life cycle.”
We will be at the IP Service World in Munich, November 21-22, and you can find us at booth IP 23 + IP 24. If you are looking for something a little more in-depth, why not join our roundtable discussion on Day 1 and our 30 minutes speaker slot on Day 2? We look forward to seeing you there!
The Dennemeyer Group offers high-quality services for the protection and management of Intellectual Property rights and is committed to being the first-choice partner for customers globally. With 60 years of experience in the industry and 20+ offices worldwide, Dennemeyer manages over three million IP rights of around 8,000 customers. Organizations with even the largest, most diverse IP portfolios turn to the Dennemeyer Group for reliable protection, administration and management of their most valuable assets. In addition to a full spectrum of IP-related legal services, Dennemeyer offers IP strategy consulting, comprehensive IP management software, IP maintenance services and cutting-edge patent search and analytics tools. For more information, visit dennemeyer.com or follow the company on LinkedIn.