From data to impact and business – create value through strategic management of intangible assets

Photo of Christin Wendel

 “Impact” – as in a positive, measurable societal change – has been something of a buzzword this autumn. Rightly so, in my opinion, since the urgency of meeting the global challenges is ever increasing. A closely related word is “innovation” – often interpreted as the process of successfully introducing something new on the market. If you add “social” to “innovation”, you will end up somewhere really close to “impact”. ISO TC 279 in the standard ISO 56000:2020 defines innovation as "a new or changed entity realizing or redistributing value".

Regardless of whether your main ambition is to improve society or to create business, the key to succeeding with “realising or redistributing value” is strategic management of your ideas, knowledge, team, trade secrets, inventions, software, data, peer network, research methods, lab results, designs, brands, reputation, and more - i.e. strategic management of your intangible assets.

From PRV’s perspective, we see three innovation trends interacting with each-other. The connection between them is the flow and management of intangible assets.

Innovation by collaboration

The first trend is that innovation is hardly ever accomplished by individuals or even individual organisations, or even with one single over-arching objective in mind. This is especially true for deep tech innovation, where the complexity calls for contributions from several or many fields of science and areas of expertise. The different actors will bring intangible assets to the project and the collaboration will lead to new intangible assets. For all actors to succeed, they must early on discuss and agree upon who shall have what type of rights and access to the intangible assets during and after the project.

This principle is valid for all types of innovation collaborations, such as between academy and enterprise, between small and large enterprises, innovations in consortia, between individuals and enterprises, and public procurement of innovative solutions. Therefore, if you innovate in collaboration (which you most probably do), make sure you have the tools and knowledge required to identify the intangible assets and acquire the control you need to access and use them.

An important tool for acquiring control of intangible assets is intellectual property rights (IPR). With IPR, you can claim sole right to a new technical solution (patent), a visual appearance (design protection), a distinguishing mark (trademark) and, last, but not least, to works of literature and art, including software (copyright).

A bit simplified, the sole right gives you the right to hinder others from using the asset that the sole right covers, for a limited amount of time and in a limited geographical region. Therefore, IPR is often perceived as a defensive protection. However, there are much more possibilities with IPR than just using it as a locked safe: As owner of the IPR, you decide who can do what when with the asset and under which conditions. From letting anyone do whatever they want for free to giving one party exclusive rights to use the asset for a limited time for a license fee.

Per default the sole right originates from and can be claimed by the creator of the intangible asset. Therefore, it is very important to keep track on who creates what in innovation collaborations.

Photo illustrating robot playing the trumpet
Most, if not all, the different parts and outputs of data driven systems are intangible assets. Photo: Casper Hedberg.

Data driven innovation

The second trend is data driven innovation. In one sense, research and innovation has always per definition been data driven. Gathered data and information lead to conclusions and knowledge which may be applied in different ways and lead to inventions, new products, or services etc that reach market and society.

What’s newer is that the inventions, products, and services in themselves are data driven. For example, a smart phone app that suggests restaurants in the vicinity will use position data as well as user preference data to yield relevant suggestions for the user.

But what really drives the importance of data driven innovation is the access to large data quantities that can be collected and transmitted over the internet at light’s speed and fed into high performance computers (in future quantum computers) where algorithms (including machine learning) enable innovations such as remote surgery and AI supported diagnostics.

Most, if not all, the different parts and outputs of the data driven systems (data, software, network technology, data storage, sensors and actuators, computer games, user devices, applications, graphical user interfaces, digital brands, audio/video streaming, e-books, NFT, blockchain currencies…) are intangible assets!

Since most innovation today is data driven as well as performed in collaborations, it follows that management of these intangible assets should be top priority – the agreements will concern almost only intangible assets.

Sharing is caring – as open as possible, as closed as needed

Ideally, innovation and value should be distributed fairly.

In a digitalised and connected world, we can share just about anything (if it’s in digital form) with anyone at the speed of light. There is a strong movement, both on policy level and grass root level, aiming for openness and sharing, especially regarding data and software. However, data, software, novel ideas and services that has no clear owner or manager will be looked upon with suspicion by serious actors, leading to suboptimal usage or no usage at all.

By having control of your assets, you can also make sustainable business choices and for example only let actors who work towards sustainable development get access to your assets.

The very same feature of digitalisation that makes it a fantastic enabler is what makes digitalisation a challenge: Since it is so easy the copy and distribute data, software and other digital assets, the assets are vulnerable. Illegal streaming feeds organised crime, we face cyber security threats, the integrity of personal data must be kept, we must make sure that AI decisions are not based on biased datasets or algorithms etc. Hence, the principle of “as open as possible (to optimize innovation and distribution of value) and as closed as needed” is a recommendable guideline for anyone aiming for responsible impact.

Challenge driven innovation – impact innovation

Let’s end where we started – with the urgency of innovation to meet the global challenges.

There is consensus that we must take on the challenges together – there is an obvious connection between challenge driven innovation and innovation by collaboration. It is also clear that we put a lot of hope on data driven innovation for both addressing the challenges and to spread new knowledge and innovations.

The hope for overcoming our global challenges and creating a good, sustainable life for all is that all innovative forces reach out to each other, collaborate under sound agreements and share the results on a platform of controlled intangible assets. As open as possible and as closed as needed.

Information about PRV: PRV is the Swedish intellectual property office. PRV is where you go to register patents, designs and trademarks. On we provide information and knowledge about strategic management of intangible assets and intellectual property rights, including copyright as well as free access to patent-, design-, and trademark databases and PRV’s library. PRV also offers consultancy services, including landscaping, novelty searches and freedom to operate.