It’s The Intangible Assets Adversaries Are Seeking…

I have been engaged in all things intangible since the early 1990’s…carefully ‘architecting’ a path to becoming an intangible asset strategist and risk specialist. 

I remain hard pressed however, to…fully understand why so many professionals – practitioners, i.e., administrations, cabinet officials, government agency leadership, corporate c-suites, and endless numbers of legal (media) pundits…

  • all of whom should – are obliged to know the distinctions, but, 
  • consistently portray the target(s) of global economic (cyber) espionage against U.S. companies, as almost exclusively being conventional intellectual properties, i.e., patents, trade secrets, copyrights, and trademarks.

My suspicions are, continual portrayal of private sector information assets and losses in IP only contexts…there are supportive ‘focused grouped’ presumptions…

  • that higher percentages of citizens possess some familiarity with the concept – purpose of patents and trade secrets.
  • when exaggerated – guesstimated dollar values are assigned to the stolen intellectual properties are exploited to benefit an adversary economically, competitively, and often provide national security advantages.
  • that citizen responses become more emotion laden, personalized, and receptive to those advocating repercussions and/or sanctions be applied to the probable aggressor(s), and
  • citizens find it challenging to understand the intricacies and distinctions of stolen or misappropriated non-physical – intangible assets, i.e., intellectual, structural, and relationship capital.

The persistent initiatives of global economic and competitive advantage adversaries…which, to be sure, are legion, globally asymmetric, and increasingly sophisticated at identifying, targeting, accessing, and acquiring very specific (company held) proprietary ‘know how’, ala intangible assets. 

These ‘intangible assets’ are precisely what adversaries’ need, want, and therefore will aggressively and stealthily pursue…because it is generally, the quickest and least expensive route to global competitiveness, potential sector dominance, and profitability, while diminishing same, often at substantial costs to the target, i.e., asset loser.

Within the, now, endless – persistent cycles of business operation risk…its important for every company that develops – produces valuable, competitive, revenue generating, and market space intangible assets recognize that…

  1. it is an indisputable – irreversible economic fact (business operation reality) today that 80+% of most company’s value, sources of revenue, competitiveness, and sustainability lie in – emerge directly from intangible, not tangible, assets, and
  2. there is no other time in business governance – management history when steadily rising percentages of company’s value develop – exist as intellectual, structural, and relationship capital, reputation, brand, R&D, contracts, and hybrid (proprietary) technologies, etc.

The fact of the matter is, issued intellectual properties do provide legal standing for holders to…pursue alleged infringers, counterfeiters, and misappropriators.

However, issued intellectual properties provide little or no ‘special deterrents’ today...but, yes, issued – registered IP does provide holders with legal standing to bring criminal and/or civil action against, what I argue, are, inevitable attempts to infringe – misappropriate. In this context, and probably only in this context, does registered IP manifest as ‘general deterrents’, providing of course, the registered IP holder prevails! 

So, through my lens of experience…patent holders are very much obliged today to avoid assuming the mere issuance of IP, standing alone, provides sufficient deterrents to the vested and global cadres of economic – competitive advantage adversaries from day one!

In no small part, that’s because the relatively rapid (probable, potential) economic, competitive advantage, and reputational gains…an adversary stands to achieve by remaining fully engaged in asset infringement, misappropriation, and counterfeiting, etc., are too probable and lucrative to dismiss or extend reverence to westernized intellectual property law. 

So, any notion that the proprietary know how underlying – embedded in a company’s registered – issued IP is…will magically – miraculously be fully safeguarded, merely by ‘general deterrents’ presumed to immediately attach to conventionally issued IP is, truth be told, substantially more myth than reality and I counsel, represents wishful and naïve thinking.

In part, that’s why I encourage clients to frame more as a rhetorical question…i.e.,

  • why would an economic – competitive advantage adversary, data mining operation, information broker, or competitive intelligence firm…
  • irrespective of the country-location they function…
  • engage in the now presumptive risk of stealing the content of a U.S. patent…
  • when essentially the intangible assets embedded therein, will likely be published and available online through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Crystal City, VA?

Admittedly, pursuing the ‘patent only route’…is generally a business decision advocated by venture capitalists and a WTO requisite which pleases successive rounds of investors.  But, continuing this conventional practice, may not necessarily reflect today’s globally aggressive, predatorial, winner-take-all, and go fast, go hard, go global business (transaction) environments.

Consistently, I respectfully encourage, those charged with developing. integrating, and exploiting…a company’s valuable, revenue generating, competitive, and proprietary intangible assets, to ask…

  • how and which intangible assets originate – are developed internally, and therefore warrant higher levels and more sophisticated safeguards and resilience planning?

The answer…that’s where practitioners are obliged to devote their resources and time!

Michael D. Moberly [email protected] St. Louis (originally posted January 22, 2015, substantially revised, updated, and reposted, February 28, 2019 the ‘Business Intangible Asset Blog’ since May 2006, 650+ posts, ‘where intangible assets, business, and effective solutions converge’.

I invite you to explore other relevant blog posts, video, books, and position papers at

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