Use questionable ethics (No. 49 in our list of IP mistakes)

A list of strategic mistakes cannot ignore the value of ethics.  It is a mistake not to employ good ethics in the conduct of IP strategy.  The reason for this statement anchors on the fact that poor ethics tends to isolate the instigators from other people and enterprises.  In the interplay between customers, partners, and competitors, isolation tends to lead to decline.  Gaining a reputation for questionable ethics leads towards isolation as those who might bring opportunities forward decide against doing so.

A challenge for the IP profession is a too often accepted practice that the decision to infringe IP or not is a business decision evaluated solely on the risks and benefits of doing so, and not on any moral code.  This is a shortsighted way to view the problem that can only benefit shareholders for the long term if the original owners of the IP are complicit or accepting of the theft.  Conversely, it does not benefit your shareholders for the long term to knowingly work with others who steal from you.  People steal to get what they otherwise do not have, and it is never for benevolent reasons.  Infringement is against the law, intentional IP infringement is theft, and people with any respect for the viability of their businesses will not work with people who steal.

The temptation of individuals and enterprises to engage in unethical behavior cannot be handled internally with policy alone.  Internal enforcement is not enough to stop it considering the belief from people inclined to unethical behavior that they will not be caught, that they can apply ethics selectively, or that they may receive a reward for their unethical behavior.  Ethical behavior needs to become inherent in the culture of the business.  Over the long haul it makes the conflicts that will occur between competitors, partners, and customers much less expensive given the belief of others that you will try to do the right thing.

All that stated, ethics makes for some challenging business decisions.  Bill Gates once stated about living with poor ethics and his software, “As long as they‘re going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They‘ll get sort of addicted, and then we‘ll somehow figure out how to collect.”  If you decide to accept such practices from others, do so with open eyes and let nothing surprise you.

(This is number 49 in our list of IP mistakes and how to avoid them.)

Image credit: Hemera Big Box of Art 1 Million

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