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Are you giving away your intellectual property? January 2, 2013

Posted by Jason in Management.
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The recent Instagram debacle has more people talking about Intellectual Property rights.  For many corporations, IP is a very real concern, and a great source of corporate value.  Examples are various workshops, training materials, or design elements (whether patented, trademarked, copyrighted, or simply kept secret).

But what about personal branding?  Is there an advantage to an individual to share his or her intellectual property with a past, present, or future employer or client?  I think so.

One of the greatest threats to IP is that a competitor will use it to take some of the firm’s market share.  Another is that a client will perform work internally that it previously paid your firm to do.  While valid concerns for an organization, the individual is less exposed to these kinds of risks.  Unless you are an empire builder, you have little to lose by sharing knowledge, skills, and techniques with those around you – even clients.

Here is an example from my own work as a writer:

My value to a client does not come from my ability to strike plastic keys with my fingers.  That’s an easily outsourced task that with low intrinsic value.  Rather, I follow some process (which varies based on topic and audience) to synthesize various parts of the client’s business into a cohesive message and deliverable product.  I’m quite happy to explain in great detail how I organize the raw information and mold it into a finished piece.  Indeed, these are skills that virtually anyone can learn, and if the client was so inclined, could do for himself.

But that’s what distinguishes our separate business interests, goals, and differentiating value.  My engineering client wants to do engineering, not writing.  Surely he will benefit by understanding what it takes to write a good press release or technical article, and I’m all for teaching him (it makes the writer’s job that much easier).  But to keep the process ‘behind the curtain’ is to overthink the risk and ignore the additional value that comes from forming a partnership.  Instead of maintaining a black art, take some time to educate your clients and coworkers.

Knowledge is not a zero-sum game.