Intellectual Property Strategy

In this book, intellectual property expert and Harvard Law School professor John Palfrey offers a short briefing on intellectual property strategy for corporate managers and nonprofit administrators.
Updated Jun 11, 2018 (39 Older Versions)chevron-down
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Intellectual Property Strategy

Intellectual Property Strategy was originally published in 2011 by the MIT Press. In April 2018 it was made available as an open access title here on PubPub.

For Terry Fisher, whose every idea makes perfect sense immediately.

Series Foreword

The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series presents short, accessible books on need-to-know subjects in a variety of fields. Written by leading thinkers, Essential Knowledge volumes deliver concise, expert overviews of topics ranging from the cultural and historical to the scientific and technical. In our information age, opinion, rationalization, and superficial descriptions are readily available. Much harder to come by are the principled understanding and foundational knowledge needed to inform our opinions and decisions. This series of beautifully produced, pocket-sized, soft-cover books provides in-depth, authoritative material on topics of current interest in a form accessible to nonexperts. Instead of condensed versions of specialist texts, these books synthesize anew important subjects for a knowledgeable audience. For those who seek to enter a subject via its fundamentals, Essential Knowledge volumes deliver the understanding and insight needed to navigate a complex world.

—Bruce Tidor

Professor of Biological Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Author’s Note

I am very grateful to the MIT Press and the MIT Media Lab for their partnership in making Intellectual Property Strategy available as an open access title. I am excited about the PubPub platform as a means by which the ideas in this book might reach a wider audience.  I also love the potential for interactivity. There is no single, simple answer to the hard problems that lie at the heart of this book. It is only through the wisdom of many people and the lived experience of entrepreneurs, inventors, and academics of all sorts that we can sort through these topics in a compelling fashion. The PubPub platform offers the promise for new modes of book publishing and a new era of engagement between authors and readers.

John Palfrey

Preface to the Print Edition

I have written this book in two related, yet distinct, formats. As a conventional matter, this book might be read in the printed form that you now hold in your hands. This is, purposely, a short book, designed to give you a primer on intellectual property strategy in no more time that it takes to fly, say, from New York to London or Boston to Los Angeles, if you were to read it cover-to-cover in a single sitting.

As an experimental matter, I’ve also written the book, as well as a series of companion case studies and related material, to be read in a purely digital format. The idea behind this digital version is to experiment with whether a reader might benefit from a presentation of these ideas that is at once both linear and nonlinear. While you can make your way through the text just as you might the conventional, printed version (albeit on a screen), you are offered a series of places where you might take a deeper dive into one or more topics that especially interest you.

These potential diversions, built into the digital version of the book, take the form of a series of case studies and short videos. These supplements are designed to enable you to go deeper on many of the big themes developed in the conventional form of the book. Via links within the text, you will find connections to case studies on a range of topics. For instance, these cases take up follow-on biologics, an important form of innovation in the market for lifesaving drugs internationally; the practice of licensing trademarks in the collegiate market; university technology commercialization; open innovation, in particular the InnoCentive model; the story of Starbucks and its at-tempts to trademark coffee from Africa; and the licensing opportunities seized by major museums, such as the Louvre in France.

These brief cases also include links to the open web. My hope is that you might at some point, after such a detour, return to the book, rather than allowing yourself to be pulled into the deeper web. Even if you don’t return to the book, that is a risk I consider worth taking. There is, after all, more to be said on the topic of intellectual property strategy than I’ve included in either version of this book.

The videos are interviews that I have recorded with experts in the field of intellectual property. You can watch these videos in full, via the iPad application or on YouTube. You will also find pointers to snippets from the videos embedded in the text of the digital version of the book in places where I encourage you to take a detour to hear from someone other than me, the primary author.

Last, and most important in a way, I hope that you will talk back: to challenge the ideas I’ve put forward here in this book, online and in public, to help build our common understanding of the world of ideas, knowledge, and innovation in today’s global marketplace. It is through this kind of public exchange that we can together grow smarter about intellectual property.


I owe thanks to a great team of collaborators. June Casey, my colleague at Harvard Law School, has proven to me, yet again, how important truly great librarians are, especially in a digital era. June provided substantive and editorial advice on both the main text and the online materials, including the case studies, videos, and user interface. She also managed and supported an able group of law students who have also contributed mightily to this project. In partnership with June, David Jacobs researched and drafted most of the case studies that accompany this volume. Daniel Doktori researched and drafted the case on university technology licensing. Andrew Breidenbach provided valuable research assistance for the primary text of the book. My colleagues at the Berkman Center for Internet &  Society at Harvard University have provided deep inspiration. Dean Martha Minow, Terry Fisher, Urs Gasser, Lawrence Lessig, Phil Malone, and Jonathan Zittrain have been generous with their ideas. Margy Avery and her team at the MIT Press, as well as the group of blind peer re-viewers that she assembled, have been a pleasure to work with. My family, as ever, has been patient and supportive through yet another book project that cut into my time on the playground and Little League diamond.

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Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: Are there any initiatives to upgrade the old, international IP regimes and agreements (e.g. Paris or PCT Treaties the Hague system)?
Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: Given the growing costs of protecting IP globally and the fragmentation of IP laws and regulations, how can  multinational companies capture value from their IP?
Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: With a Blockchain-based transparent record of innovations, could we envision different IP rights, and remuneration, to be distributed to all the inventors in the networked ecosystem?
Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: The blockchain technology allows for immutable record of transactions; could this technology become a new way to record a provenance of an idea or a product and a source of an authorship claim?
Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: With the increasing presence of open-innovation systems, how will organizations’ internal strategy of innovation/creativity be impacted?
Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: The book discusses the many benefits of open innovation ecosystems. Should they be curated to intentionally increase knowledge diversity?
Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: In the new, platform-driven economy, where our personal, behavioral and transactional data become closely woven into the very sources of profit for Facebook, Google, Apple, and others, is it imagin...
Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: Can new IP strategies help reverse the centralization of the Internet, now in the hands of a few major players like Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google?
Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: How do IP strategies for the dominant players/platform/hubs of the “capitalism on steroids” system differ from those for small start-ups (which, for example, just invented a new killer-app)?
Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: How will IP laws change in the age of open innovation, Internet and 3D printing (technologies that lowered costs of production/replication of many goods)?
Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: Who owns computer-generated works (e.g. art, creative designs, etc.)? Are they eligible for patent and copyright protection in the US and other countries? What about robots and AI-created works?
Up for DebateAuthor Question
John Palfrey: What are the main kinds of IP assets of platforms like Facebook or Google? Are they patentable?