There’s Value in Your Old IP

Michael Jackson is going on tour with Pepsi. Yes, Jackson died in 2009. No, Pepsi isn’t a performer but, rather, a soft drink brand. Your point? Actually, Pepsi has contracted with Jackson’s estate to license his image for soda cans, footage for a TV ad, and music for remixes that consumers will be able to download.

And Pepsi isn’t the only one taking advantage of a duet with the dead. At the Coachella Music and Arts Festival this year, visual effects company Digital Domain Media Group put a hologram of rapper Tupac Shakur back on stage and dancing with another performer. Both stories are a reminder of how long-lived and important intellectual property can be — something important for everyone with a business degree to remember.

Long after you might think that the natural life of an IP (intellectual property) asset might have ended, there may be great value left. It may sound odd to discuss people as assets, but that’s actually not what is in question. Individuals, as well as corporations, products, services, and brands, may own, incorporate, or display types of intellectual property. Here are just some of the types of intellectual property that a company might have:

  • Copyright — A property interest in a particular verbal or visual expression of an idea. Oracle has been suing Google for alleged copyright infringement from the unauthorized use of some computer code.
  • Patent — The exclusive right to use or license use of an invention for a specific time period. Allegations of patent infringement have been a major issue over the last few years in the mobile communications market, drawing in such companies as Apple, Motorola, Samsung, and Microsoft.
  • Trade secret — Some underlying technology, technique, process, formula, insight, or other competitive advantage that a company uses but keeps secret. Coca-Cola’s drink formula is an example.
  • Trademark — The legal right to a name associated with a given product or service in a particular industry. Starbuck’s name and logo are both trademarks.
  • Brand — More than a snappy name or logo, a brand is the communicated distillation of a corporate positioning and consumers’ experience with a given company, product, or service. The name or image then becomes a reminder of the bigger picture. Disney, for example, has a specific kid-friendly brand, which is why the company created its Touchstone Pictures division, so it could produce more mature entertainment without undercutting its main brand.
  • Right of Publicity — This is a state- or country-defined right of individuals. A famous example of a dispute between Woody Allen and American Apparel, when the latter used the former’s image in an ad without permission. It cost the company a reputed $5 million.

Often, various types of IP seem to have specific life spans. Patents run out after 20 years. A brand may have a limited appeal and then need to be retired, as often happens in the restaurant business. But some IP may have a far longer life than someone would think. Coke’s secret formula and brand are two examples.

One of the biggest mistakes the company made was in the 1980s, when it decided to change its formula to better compete with Pepsi. It was a disaster. There was enormous value in the original formula. And, every year, Coke brings back old Santa artwork and imagery during the holidays. Why? Because there’s value in that old IP. Maybe there is for your business, as well.

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