April 26th is World Intellectual Property Day, focusing this year on how small businesses can use intellectual property (IP) rights to build a stronger, more competitive and resilient business. To those unfamiliar with IP and its nuances, IP can be thrown around as a buzzword without a true understanding of what it is or how it can be used to generate value. Utilizing patent, trademark and copyright law, businesses, both small and large, can put themselves in a better position to earn value from what they create.

By way of background, a patent is an exclusive right granted for a new invention, giving the patent owner the ability to decide how others can use the invention for a limited amount of time (generally, for 20 years from the filing date in the U.S.). On the other hand, copyright and trademark protection can last much longer. Trademarks are signs used to distinguish the goods and services of one business from the next and to help prevent confusion in the marketplace. Copyright protection focuses on the protection of creative works, such as books, music, films, computer programs and databases.

IP strategy is not one size fits all. To make your IP work for you, it is important to have an IP strategy tailored to fit your own business goals and innovation strategy. For example, if you have a patent on a product within your core business and the capability to fully exploit the market, it may be best to commercialize the product directly and exclusively. On the other hand, if you do not have the manufacturing capacity to satisfy the whole market, or the technology covered by the patent can be used on products outside your core business and competency, it may be best to license your patent to other firms in order to maximize your own profit. There is, of course, a lot of room in between, and considerations such as licensing exclusivity and field-of-use restrictions should be taken into account.

Similar considerations apply to trademarks and copyrighted works. For copyright-protected software, for example, it may be wise to license the software royalty free if the widespread adoption of the software would create a favorable ecosystem for your business or other portions of your IP portfolio. As for trademarks, it’s important to have a robust branding strategy to ensure brand recognition and the prevention of brand dilution. Strong branding can lead to other monetization opportunities, such as licensing your logo to a different company to use on T-shirts or other collectibles, for example – a stream of income you would be unable to generate on your own.

What works for one company may not work for another, even if similarly situated. However, the point is, on World IP Day, to recognize (1) that you have IP (even if you did not know it) and (2) that IP can help in building a stronger, more competitive business.

Happy World Intellectual Property Day!