What's YOUR pick for the most brilliant IP Strategy move of all time?

We’re putting together a list of the most brilliant IP strategy moves ever made and we’d love your input.

From that we can have a dialog about what made them brilliant IP strategy moves and what conditions, internal and external, led to them. Maybe we can all learn some useful ideas to take away.

Since some of the most brilliant IP strategies may be brilliant for the very reason that no one knows about them – the old adage that the well-known doctor is the one who cures disease and the master doctor, often in obscurity, prevents diseases from occurring – we hope you might bring to light some brilliant IP strategies that no one yet knows much about.

If you wish to send an idea anonymously, please email Robert at Robert[at]thinkipstrategy.com and we will keep confidential you as a source – just no legally protected secrets please.

For starters, I will put two on the list we like, one well-known and the other less so.

The Texas Instruments decision to assert its patents in the early 1990s for licensing that created a billion dollar revenue stream and saved the company also became a game changer strategy for the IP industry. It has to go on the list of brilliant IP strategy moves.

Less well known, and while we are not sure whether it was through strategic deliberation or good fortune, Under Armour® staking a place as a premium brand in athletic wear with very little startup budget and in the face of brand juggernauts Nike® and Adidas®, is an IP strategy story that every trademark professional should know and study.

What are your thoughts?

[image credit: Richard Carter]

13 Comments on “What's YOUR pick for the most brilliant IP Strategy move of all time?

  1. This post on your thoughts on the top IP Strategy moves initially published closed to comments – apologies to everyone, now open – please come and add your thoughts.

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  2. If we think of ‘IP’ as including brand names I think the most brilliant strategy is the common tactic of splitting ‘popular’ actions under your public brandname and having the ‘unpopular’ actions under another name.

    So ‘Sony Music’ sponsors a music festival … but ‘the RIAA’ is the group prosecuting and bankrupting people for copying music. Soft drink companies with one brand group for the ‘high sugar everyone knows is bad for you’ and another for the ones that are meant to be healthy.

    To a lesser extent it is also done with ‘high perceived value’ goods and ‘cheap & nasty’ – so Starbucks have a different brandname for their ‘instant coffee’ machine business.

    This seems to be a recent trend historically – it always amazed me that Royal Doulton was quite happy to use the ‘Royal Doulton’ brandname on high priced fine bone china dinnnerware … as well as toilets !!! I suspect if it was going to occur today they’d insist they use different brandnames.

    Another great branding strategy is multiple brand and companies to give the illusion of choice in a market. If you look at the funeral market in Australia we have many different options – White Lady, Guardian, Simplicity Funerals etc. However these are just 3 of 20 brands all owned & run by one company – Invocare Australia.

    This is important because as a consumer we see a 20 different names and talk to several different companies before settling on who will get our business. So when one price seems high we call another company and get a similar quote … under the mistaken assumption that we have called a competitor!

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    • Hi Mark,

      Yes … this first with Sony is a variation on the strategic principle of “Strike with a Borrowed Hand,” which means to let someone else take an action while you keep to a safe distance. Here you create a different brand to become your borrowed hand. Regarding branding and different labels, you can also see a variation on the theme in the Swiss watch industry where the inner workings come from the same factory, and yet there can be an order of magnitude difference in pricing. So then looking at the outside factors of the watch to find reasons for the higher price – for example diving watches – the higher end may let you dive to 500 meters deep or more, except that human physiological limitations mean even the professionals can’t dive to a third of that depth. So it’s a great place to study the psychological value behind the capabilities of the watch and what it is worth to people to have a given brand name on their wrist. It has real value, most of it social, or companies like Rolex would not be in business.

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      • Hi Michael – The deceipt issue and IP comes up a lot with IP strategy – the Sun Tzu quote “All war is based on deception.” – so if you succeed by deceiving customers, have you declared war on them therefore? It leads to some very interesting discussions, especially around branding, since much of branding is about creating an appealing image emotionally about something – think about Coca Cola(R) or Pepsi(R) that may, at its logical heart, be little more that water, sugar, and flavoring…and yet people do enjoy the product and probably enjoy it more with the image the companies have created.

        The other day I bought a new ice scrapper for my car window that I thought was the same one I had in my other car – looked exactly the same, and purchase at the same store – only the new one shattered when I first used it, and when I looked closer, I saw that is was no longer made in the USA like the original…not good or right. That felt like a direct deception strike against me who had been a regular customer – and it was – or should I have read the fine print which was on the product? Gray areas appear … we see the beautiful car and the beautiful model in a photo, and the implication could be that if I get the car, I can get the model, which perhaps is a form of deception too. Does that hurt me as a customer – it could if it somehow influenced me to buy a car model that was not really the best fit for me, or it could conversely help me to feel I bought a sexy car which might have been my goal. So if a car company builds a sports car and a general sedan on the same platform and brands them differently, is that good marketing, efficient manufacturing, deception, all the above. Does it depend upon the customer? Does it depend upon how difficult or easy a company makes for customers to know the whole story if they take the time to look?

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      • I think you’re complicating things, Robert! What you think, as the customer, is neither here nor there. The ethics of the matter lies in the ‘mens rea’ of the seller or the manufacturer. If the seller of your ice scraper actually intended to sell you a cheaper and much inferior product by pricing it and dressing it up as a superior one, that is practising deception and is unethical. On the other hand, the manufacturer may have been selling a scraper of equal quality to the original US one (yes, us foreigners can produce goods of equal quality to American ones!). You just happened to have the misfortune to buy a defective rogue one. In which case the seller was acting quite ethically.
        In Mac’s proposal for a “brilliant” strategy, he said: “I think the most brilliant strategy is the common tactic of splitting ‘popular’ actions under your public brandname and having the ‘unpopular’ actions under another name.” In other words he was instancing a deliberate attempt to deceive the public. Whether or not the public was deceived, the intention was to deceive and so wrong. How wrong or how wicked I’m not concerned with, just whether the deed was an ethical one.

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      • Hi Michael…

        Agreed … deliberate deception is an ethics issue. It does happen a lot. Splitting brands above is similar, in principle, to a manager having a “hatchet man” to keep his hands clean – and as companies often have different brands to denote, create, or sell within different markets, maybe the question is whether the company is deliberately hiding its brand affiliations to gain market advantage or whether it is fairly easy for someone doing a little research to learn about the brand affiliations…for example a holding company Web site that lists its companies and brands. (On manufactures – could very easily make the comment in reverse on other product lines I own made abroad and not made so well in the US – with hand tools, overall, US does those pretty well, and the country in question has a recognized track record of inconsistency in the area.)

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  3. Another strategy – Hitler’s strategy for Mein Kampf.

    People outside of Germany who wanted to know what Hitler was like would get the information from the horse’s mouth (so to speak) and read his memoir – Mein Kampf.

    The incredible IP strategy was that, under copyright law, there was only one authorised English translation. The publisher (Houghton Mifflin) removed some of the more militaristic parts from the English language version. When an anti-Hitler group brought out a translation that included the parts that caused Hitler to be seen in a less flattering light they were sued by Hitler’s publisher for copyright infringement. So, in 1939, a court in Connecticut ordered that accurate translations be destroyed.

    So careful use of copyright law permitted Hitler to have two different versions of his writings – one for the German audience and one for the rest of the world.

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    • Hi Mark,

      That’s great, and I expect little known. Moral consideration noted of course, there is a lot on IP, especially branding, that can be learned from examining the propaganda efforts of three combatants in particular during the World War II period, Germany, the USSR, and Great Britain. The one you describe is a great example of using copyright law protect “brand perception” and to evoke the strategic principle of “Show Part but not All of your Plan,” which is different from a bluff because the part that you show actually has some teeth.

      Both German and Soviet flags, with their symbols and dominant base color of red, evoked power. Churchill’s speeches stirred the world, for example at the Battle of Britain – “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Talk about a tag line that could gain world empathy and stir the passion of the pilots still fighting to keep at it. The Soviet National Anthem written during the war is stirring – so much so that while listening to a talk radio show, Glen Beck, staunch right wing anti-socialist – where his production team started playing the Soviet National Anthem when he was talking about President Obama’s decision to take stakes in GM and other major US companies during the fincancial crisis – paused with his diatribe, started really listening to the music, and then said to the effect “Hey, that’s pretty good…” then added some dialog asking that since we won the Cold War, could we keep that.

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  4. Defensive publication.
    The majority of inventions repay neither the time or the money required to patent them and yet many are important to the inventor’s business. At first just an abstruse move by one or two R&D divisions, defensive publication became a public service with the launch of Research Disclosure in 1960 so that R&D managers can run more realistic IP budgets by dividing their products into the patentable and the not-worth-patenting.

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    • Thanks Michael. Excellent. Always a fan of defensive publication, enough so that I helped to found IP.com, which offers an all electronic variation on the same. If maintaining freedom of operation is the only need for a company regards a potentially patentable invention, a defensive publication can take care of that, often better than a patent, especially given that it can expand upon the scope of the described invention. The price – maybe a few hundred dollars.

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  5. Brilliant IP strategy, in one sense, is all about executing an IP decision that yields maximum results. One such recent moment was when Klausner Technologies filed law suits against Apple and AT&T . The firm alleged that the iPhone’s Visual Voicemail feature infringes on Klausner’s U.S. Patents 5,572,576 and 5,283,818. This was in Late 2007.

    Now Klausner has 15+ big companies licensing its technology and is an undisputed leader. It would be interesting to see the outcome of a realted auction of Robert Osann’s smart phone video messaging patent portfolio at the ICAP Ocean Tomo Spring 2011 Live IP Auction on March 31ST at Capitale in the heart of New York City.

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    • Hi Naim – Always a measure results against effort. ROI may be an element of an ROS – Return on Strategy – or it may be a part of softer results of no less importance. Great example of “Making an Example Out of Another” the idea that by setting a solid precedent in one place, others will do as you would like without much prompting…can be very efficient provided the first action works and the example is an entity of merit.

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