Companies are realizing a new value and vulnerability in their intellectual capital — the patents, licenses, databases, research and employee skill and know-how that keep them viable.
After all, headlines scream daily about threats ranging from a creaking U.S. electric grid to leaked intelligence from National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
So Chicago businesses are coming up with innovative ways to protect and leverage this newly recognized value in “intangibles” — talent, reputation, technology, knowledge and products.
One of the more unique security solutions for online banking is a QR code on steroids — a multicolored version of the familiar black-and-white digital barcode that not only stores data but transfers the data at several times the speed of a typical QR code.
The technology, dubbed CrontoSign, comes from a husband-and-wife entrepreneur couple who spun the innovation out of Cambridge University.
Vasco Data Security International, of Oakbrook Terrace, bought CrontoSign for about $22 million this year, and intends to expand it to other kinds of online transactions.
The CrontoSign technology, which comes as a standalone device and as a downloadable app, wraps data in a protected package to keep it from being attacked by malware that can track online bank customers’ keystrokes, grab passwords and invade accounts.
T. Kendall Hunt, Vasco’s founder, chairman and CEO, says the company will double its employee base at Cambridge’s startup incubator, to about 10, to stay on top of other developments.
“Building and maintaining a competitive edge requires constant effort and attention,” Hunt says.
A degree of protection
The same kind of safeguarding against patent “trolls” and corporate globalization is part of Chicago-based Trustwave’s legal strategy too.
Mar Tenas i Bastida, Trustwave’s director of contracts and business strategy, says IP protections no longer stop at U.S. or North American borders because of today’s global economy.
“No longer do companies focus on the United States or North America for their patent strategy,” says Tenas Bastida, whose department manages Trustwave’s patents and trademarks portfolio.
Another challenge is patent trolls — companies that file lawsuits against a multitude of businesses demanding what critics consider unjust patent-licensing fees just to make money.
Tenas Bastida has a unique insight into intellectual property as one of an elite group of students who’ve earned the only intellectual property management master’s degree in America.
The Illinois Institute of Technology professional master’s degree in intellectual property management and markets is now in its fourth class.
The IIT master’s degree, which costs about $35,000, trains students to think about intellectual property as a business asset and figure out the best ways to monetize, leverage and otherwise take advantage of it.
“It is a degree reflecting the new economy,” Tenas Bastida says. “It is the perfect match of law, IP and business.”
Since IP management touches nearly every industry, the IIT alumni work in fields as varied as Boeing and Visa to electronic-document discovery company kCura.
At Boston-based Anaqua, Chairman and CEO Priya Iyer oversees six software products that perform what’s known as “intellectual asset management.”
Anaqua works with companies such as Kraft Foods, Mondelez, Ford Motor Co.,Trading Technologies and Skokie’s Polyera to review everything from employees’ ideas to official patent, trademark and other intellectual property holdings worldwide to ensure the companies make the most of their scattered knowledge assets.
“When the idea for the first software solution emerged back in 2000, there was no technology available for large corporations to manage their intellectual property; the closest service were folks who reminded companies when to pay their patent and trademark renewal fees,” Iyer says.
The software lets companies extend their monopolies on patents, figure out where their patents overlap with similar ones at rival firms and identify patents they no longer need so they can sell, license or abandon them.
The company launched its software service in 2005, and now has 375 clients, 130 employees and will expand in Asia after receiving a “significant” investment on July 17 from private equity firm Insight Venture Partners.
“In enterprise software, intellectual property is the only area that hasn’t been tapped, so we are finding ourselves in a large, growing marketplace,” Iyer says.
Anaqua says it will expand its workforce by 15 percent, to 150, by year-end. It also has plans to set up an office in Chicago in the future.
Challenges for all
Though 80 percent of much corporate value lies in intellectual property rather than physical assets, companies still tend to focus on how many patents they obtain each year as a sort of arms race, and fear collaboration, experts say.
Part of the problem is that intangible assets’ value and potential are tough to measure, says Keith Bergelt, a former Motorola executive and CEO of Open Invention Network. The network promotes open and collaborative sharing of patents.
Anyone trying to change the system, such as the IIT master’s program alumni, will have to be smart and determined, and it will take time.
ABOVE: Mickie Piatt is an IIT law professor and deputy director of the university’s program in intellectual property law. Photo courtesy of Sun-Times Media