Growing Talent Management Firms: Intellectual Property vs. Intellectual Capital

Friday, July 18, 2014

In the post, “Is Content Really King?,” I suggest that content has lost its crown, given that it’s relatively easy to replicate, with different angles, nomenclature, and context—even in our expert-driven industry. That said, your talent management firm can still distinguish its content from competitors. Enter intellectual capital.

Certainly, there are legal means to protect and differentiate content through copyright and licensing laws, but this is becoming more difficult and expensive to monitor. Indeed, it’s easier than ever to alter content and harder than ever to control usage, especially globally.

Even with these difficulties, we should make every effort to patrol the content we’ve created and own. However, perhaps it’s time to look at intellectual property (I.P.) in a different context. Instead, let’s focus on intellectual capital (I.C.), which every organization brings to the party.

Case in point

Intellectual capital comes in different forms—print, online, and in the heads of our employees. I was at a recent Instructional Systems Association conference where I.C. was presented very differently than I.P.

A presentation offered by the firm Equiteq, which specializes in creating growth and realizing equity value in businesses, discussed its Equity Growth Wheel of eight levers of equity value. Even though one lever on the wheel is labeled I.P., Equiteq contends that it is actually I.C. that creates real equity value.


Equiteq sorts I.C. into three buckets or tiers:

  1. I.C. used to market your firm, such as thought leadership, website, newsletters, and brochures. 
  2. I.C. needed to deliver your services, such as programs, materials, and tools. 
  3. I.C. required to run your business, such as an IT infrastructure, product development processes, and financial systems.

I thought this breakout of I.C. was a more pragmatic way to think about what a talent management firm actually owns. More important, these are the features and deliverables that an organization can adapt and leverage when needs arise.
In my opinion, applying this approach is more productive than getting overly concerned about doing everything possible to protect your intellectual property. In fact, unless you actually own the algorithm for scoring your assessment inventory or the software code in the application tools used for follow-up development activities, you don’t actually own much of anything worth protecting.

The lesson, then, is about spending time and energy to protect your unique business model and approaches that create value for your organization (intellectual capital) rather than ensuring every word, learning method, and inventory (intellectual property) are copyrighted and patent-protected.


Can you think of a talent management firm with little exclusively owned intellectual property that has succeeded because of the intellectual capital present in its business? Can you think of any examples of intellectual property that firms believe they “own” but are frequently purloined for other formats and processes?

Check out Steve’s full series, Managing and Growing Talent Management Firms.

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