April 28, 2009

Book Review - The Invisible Edge

I thought that it would be nice to provide some variation to Intangitopia by recommending a book that I read recently. The recently published book is called The Invisible Edge- taking your strategy to the next level using intellectual property.

Background
Intellectual assets and IP are traditionally not discussed in the boardroom as the core to business strategies in the way it really ought to be discussed. This is true both for many industries/companies as well as for many of the US top business schools. Too often, business managers think of IP as a problem for the patent lawyer to deal with, or that it only applies to particular industries such as entertainment, software and pharmaceuticals. The authors argue that IP instead should become your number one priority and be the core of your strategy (which may be compared to one of the older posts here at Intangitopia).

Zooming as a Concept
The book introduces the concept of “zooming” where the analogy of using different “lenses” allows you to see different dimensions of your strategy. Using this concept allows you to look at specific cases from several perspectives, and is also something that we recently utilized at Intangitopia in a post to visualize value extraction in Agribusiness. The IBM PC is used as one of the examples in the book. IBM’s strategy is argued to be perceived as an innovation success on a high-level (“architecture level”), whereas it is obvious that a zoomed-in picture (“component level”) reveals details that show a platform where control (and market share) is gradually lost to become cloned and flooded by competitors making implementation on a detailed level less successful.
The book provides some really interesting examples of “zooming” where one starts at the level of competition between nations only to gradually zoom in to company competition, networks of inventions/developers, technology inter-dependency, patent rights and claims thereof.

Control - Collaborate - Simplify
Another simple, but yet elegant, concept that the book presents is: control-collaborate-simplify. This is more of a holistic framework of the dimensions of IP rather than a readily applicable tool. The model describes the exclusionary role (control) of IP that still is the focus of many firms versus the newer phenomena of openness and co-creation (collaborate), and how these concepts can be packaged and shaped (simplify) using ingenious designs, setting standards and architectural thinking into logical/intuitive models that will be the factor that “wins over the market”.

Case Studies
The book presents a wealth of studies ranging from the steam engine to golfballs, razors, computers, patent trolls, as well as IP strategies for Lenovo, Qualcomm, Xerox, Toyota and Boeing among others.

About the Authors
Mark Blaxill and Ralph Eckhardt are managing partners of 3LP Advisors. Blaxill is a former senior vice president of The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and was head of its Strategy Practice Initiative. Eckhardt is the former head of BCG’s intellectual property strategy practice.
More about the authors here.

Conclusions
The book is very inspiring and is an exceptional read for anyone who is new to the IP world and would like to understand its importance in relation to business strategy and the new economy. Personally, I enjoy case studies and therefore find the book to be really useful to see what strategies that have worked or failed in the past. One of the best things about the book is that it is written in a way that is easy to communicate to non-lawyers, meaning that it provides a good tool when looking for examples to describe why a client should worry about their IP strategy or why patenting should be a boardroom decision. The only negative aspect that I found about the book is that I would like to have seen more detailed frameworks, models and checklists for successful implementation of IP strategy, and I really hope that there will be a more advanced second book in the future where more hands-on advice is provided. I do realize however that the contextual nature of IP makes drafting of general widely applicable frameworks extremely difficult. Nonetheless, I enoyed the book and I recommend reading it.


Tobias Thornblad
(Follow me on Twitter)

Get the book here

More information:
Forbes: IP Is Now Job One For Every Senior Executive
IP Think Tank Podcast: interview with the authors here
IP Finance: Anther book review here

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