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The market for energy management products and services is growing rapidly; new understanding and insight are fostering product development and creating intellectual property capital in droves. Anyone working in the technology field should have a good understanding of what intellectual property means. Insight and ideas for new products and services are often the result of working in customer environments, managing and implementing products and services, or discovering problems that aren’t readily solvable. The needs of customers and their feedback are a driving force behind development opportunities. The fundamental benefit of intellectual property development is to derive a strategy where your company develops assets (such as patents) and a defensible position that protects your business within reason. Oh yea, and stay out of infringement trouble (just as important these days with patent trolls).

For those that may not know, a patent troll is an unfriendly term used to describe companies that attempt to enforce their patents against a company in a way that is thought overly aggressive or opportunistic generally with no intention of manufacturing or marketing the patent(s). Patent Trolls can be the boogie man for many companies, but in particular for smaller companies because they generally don’t have the war chest to properly litigate a patent infringement case. Recent patent troll strategy has been to go after smaller companies that don’t have the cash to litigate and end up settling—in an attempt to set a precedence for future infringement cases targeting larger companies.

I have found the definition of Intellectual Property varies widely, and misunderstandings are rife throughout the industry. There are many types of IP, ranging from patents to trade secrets. For anyone in Energy Management, it’s important to understand what IP strategy best suites your business—protecting yourself and your company’s IP should be one of your top priorities (talk to your attorney for legal advice). I was given the opportunity recently to contribute to a paper on intellectual property (IP) titled “Nevada, Intellectual Property Index”  that covers the fundamentals of intellectual property as well as economic impact. In my experience, Ian Burns (the primary author) of ATIP Law is a very good intellectual property attorney; I have worked with him on several projects when working with companies in the past that have benefited from his advice.

Companies routinely file for IP protection and most end up a public record on government web sites, such as the US Patent Office. Measurable (publically filed) IP include patents, trademarks, and copyrights: there are very good descriptions of IP types in the “Nevada, Intellectual Property Index” paper. In addition to these, Trade Secrets (in the US) are an additional to any business strategy. In short, the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) has a specific definition, roughly any information program, method, technique (etc…) that drives economic value, is not generally known, and is maintained as secret (you can Google the exact definition, seek an attorney for legal advice for your respective geographic location as legal definitions can vary by location). There are a ton of things that “may” fit into this category for energy management professionals, such as formulas for optimization in specific environments, custom programs, unique techniques or processes. In order to figure out if you have something that fits into the definition of a Trade Secret, talk to an attorney.

Developing an IP strategy is fundamentally important to your technology business. I strongly recommend talking with an attorney that specializes in intellectual property in your area when developing your business strategy. To be clear, I am not an attorney and do not give legal advice.