Inventing Faster Than Intangible Assets Can Be Stolen?

A question every entrepreneur, inventor, innovator, and their investors…should know the answer,

  • can any U.S. company really innovate and bring to market an invention, i.e., perhaps a totally new product or service, faster than its foundational-underlying intellectual and structural capital can be stolen or it’s intellectual property infringed or misappropriated?

My initial response…to this multi-faceted and increasingly asymmetric question is firmly rooted in my experiences in such matters, over many years, which collectively influence my inclination, to say, probably not! ‘Safeguarding Intangible Assets”

Start from the, if not the first national study of these increasingly critical issues, was a collaborative effort between The Office of National Counterintelligence Executive (ONCIX) and four subject matter experts representing the American Society for Industrial Security International. One such survey I served as one of four principle investigators to produce the ‘Trends In Proprietary Information Loss Survey’, the contents of which were folded into ONCIX’s ‘Annual Report to Congress on Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage’.

Of course, there have been numerous other relevant – companion studies produced...on this subject, among them being the…

  • SANS Institute’ Study on Cyber Espionage, along with very insightful research conducted by the
  • Department of Defense’ Personnel Security Research Center (PERSEREC).

Both studies, and others, consistently found evidence that U.S. companies, in some instances, in specific sectors, are routinely targeted by, and at risk, to theft of their (proprietary) economic-competitive advantage information and the critical technologies it supports, by various international entities.

ONCIX’ Annual Reports point out that risks to sensitive business information and advanced technologies have dramatically increased in the post-Cold War ear as foreign governments – both former adversaries and allies – have shifted their espionage resources away from (almost exclusively) military and political targets, to intangible assets, i.e., commercial – economic – competitive advantage assets that provide insights regarding (a.)  plans, (b.)  intentions, and (c.) capabilities.  Insofar as economic intelligence collection is concerned, the latter represent…

  • highly sought after parts of any innovation’s economic, competitive advantage, and commercialization puzzle.

Unfortunately, experience in these matters suggests…that some organizations-companies (U.S.-based and others) and their decision makers tout the assumption that their organization can…

  • ‘innovate, commercialize, and bring to market new products-services faster than any economic, competitive advantage rival or adversary can steal it’.

Such statements (assumptions) are naïve at best…and convey a wildly misunderstood realities about the current state-of-affairs insofar as economic espionage.  What’s more, such statements are being touted at a time when…

1.  intangible asset intensity and dependence are clearly the (new) foundational norms linking innovation and entrepreneurism. In these sectors, intangible assets are comprised of various forms of intellectual, structural, and relationship capital.  This capital has uniformly outpaced tangible (physical) assets as the dominant sources of most company’s value, revenues, sustainability, competitiveness, and future wealth creation potential.

2.  there is another irony to the ‘we can invent faster than economic-competitive advantage adversaries can steal’ assumption. That is, there is overwhelming and compelling evidence that corporate and state sponsored (a.) business and competitive intelligence, (b.) information brokering, (c.) data mining, (d.) cyber espionage, and (e.) economic espionage operations are far more intensive, persistent, and capable realities of engaging in global business transactions and/or trade.

Intangible assets, not unlike any companies’ plans, intentions, and capabilities…are of special interest to competitors and economic adversaries globally. The chief reason; such data-information can also be used to (a.) undermine (thwart) the targeted company’s strategic plans and competitive advantages, (b.) erode its profitability, and (c.) stifle momentum of current, as well as future project, initiatives and transactions.

Unfortunately, often embedded in the ironies of strategies based upon the notion ‘we can innovate faster than they can steal’…lie in organization-sector ‘turf protection’ which frequently stifles convergence and collaboration between (a.) intangible asset safeguard strategists, (b.) intellectual property counsel, and (c.) computer/IT security specialists.

Should, at some point, even reasonably amiable convergence and/or collaboration among these distinct professions materialize…organizations’ collective ‘risk commonalities’ would be much more transparent and preferably lead to creating, heretofore, largely non-existent efficiencies and improved safeguards and risk mitigation to the intangible assets which today, are almost always in play, and benefit the entrepreneurial and innovation sectors and clients alike.

Conceptually, and much to my chagrin…computer/IT security is often mis-perceived as the dominant domain in organizations. Especially in the context of the significant amount of (tangible) resources organizations are compelled-mandated to dedicate to protecting the systems and the data/information contained within.

Some computer/IT security executives even contend…that all valuable information evolves from and is stored in those systems. Therefore, their logic continues, as a companies’ IT systems are (presumed to be) secure, so is the company’s proprietary-sensitive information, trade secrets, proprietary know how, and intellectual property, all of which are essentially intangible assets, secure. ‘I don’t think so’!  (McCauley McCauken, the film ‘Home Alone’)

Simply asking the question; is our company’s system secure?…carries far less relevance today, at least in my judgment.

A far more meaningful question is…are the company’s proprietary-sensitive information, trade secrets (intangible assets) adequately safeguarded from the multitude of adverse acts, i.e., electronic ‘bits and bytes’ and human intelligence to perpetrate theft, misappropriation, data mining, information brokering, elicitation, and competitor intelligence operations?

An often overlooked (neglected) aspect of computer/IT security is…proprietary information, know how, and/or trade secrets exist in many forms other than those pesky electronic bits and bytes!

As these business-economic-competitive realities are recognized…as being relevant and necessary (fiduciary) considerations throughout c-suites and business units, there will (hopefully) be less of an inclination to summarily dismiss – discount the benefits of adopting a more strategic view toward safeguarding valuable intangible assets and IP.

This includes not only…protecting, but also, preserving and monitoring control, use, ownership, and value of each asset throughout its respective life-value-materiality cycle.

Michael D. Moberly October 15, 2018 St. Louis [email protected] ‘Business Intangible Asset Blog’ (since May 2006) where attention span, business realities, and solutions meet.

Readers are invited to explore other posts, papers, and books I have authored – published, i.e., ‘Safeguarding Intangible Assets’ at

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