Aleck Ncube
IN view of the importance of Intellectual Property (IP) to businesses today, chambers of commerce and business associations across the world are experiencing a growing need to provide their members with IP support services and Zimbabwe cannot be an exception. To the uninitiated, IP can appear complex and impenetrable, and many businesses have no idea where to begin educating themselves.

Business membership organisations (BMOs) for example the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) as representatives of SMEs, are ideally placed to play an active role in helping the companies understand and use IP assets in their businesses.

By providing IP services, chambers of commerce and business associations can: position themselves as leaders in a cutting edge issue in the modern economy; attract new members in highly innovative sectors; generate new sources of income through new services; create new services and add value to existing ones; help their members increase their competitiveness; and help stimulate creativity and innovation in their local economy.

Because business membership organisations already enjoy strong relationships within their respective business constituencies, they are uniquely situated to help companies successfully navigate the IP field.

Chambers of commerce and business associations are particularly well-placed to act as clearing houses for first-line information on IP and to refer member companies to more specific and different types of IP service providers. Despite this potential, a recent European study indicated that companies seeking IP services frequently utilised chambers of commerce only six per cent of the time, and used them occasionally nineteen per cent of the time.

In view of the importance and complexities of IP asset management from a strategic business perspective, business membership organisations should provide members with IP services from a practical business perspective that responds to the real needs of their constituents by focusing on commercial exploitation of IPRs and comprehensive solutions; legal protection is only one aspect of successfully managing intangible assets.

By highlighting the key advantages of utilising protected IP assets to differentiate businesses in the marketplace, chambers of commerce and business associations can give their members a competitive edge and thereby boost their local economies. IP should be approached as being an element of the overall business strategy, and not as a separate legal issue.

An IP service should be seen as a part of a broader integrated package of tools and services to help SMEs become and remain competitive.

It should not be provided as an isolated service; IP issues should be kept in mind even while providing support to businesses in other areas. Support should be provided to SMEs not just for registration/grant of IPRs, but throughout the innovation process, from the development of ideas up till the commercialisation of intangible assets. Business membership organisations should, therefore, take into account IP considerations in a wide range of activities that a company performs.

It is important to point out that those running micro or small businesses have very limited time, any advice or information provided should be easily accessible and practical to implement. For instance, focusing on small steps that correlate to other existing functions of the business would make it easier for smaller businesses to implement a cost-effective IP strategy.

IP is one element in a broader strategy to support innovation and sustainable economic development.

It is important, therefore, that a business membership organisation does not work in a vacuum in this area but actively builds national, regional and international networks of stakeholders, Government agencies, consultants, and service providers, who all work towards this common goal. This will provide the opportunity for partnerships, mutual client referral, and collaborative projects.

A network of contacts is also important to more widely promote the business membership organisation’s services, to give companies access to complementary advice and assistance, and for the organisation to share experiences and learn from the experiences of others.

In the IP field, useful partnerships can be made with, for example, Government offices responsible for patents, trademarks, designs and copyright, patent and trademark attorneys, universities and institutes of learning, technology and innovation development agencies, and business and professional associations. With respect to the financial potential of IP, business membership organisations are also encouraged to work with experts in IP valuation, professional investors and lenders, and licensing specialists.

Business membership organisations should tailor services to fill gaps by looking at what IP services already exist and to what extent the existing services, whether fee-based or free, effectively meet the needs of the targeted clients/businesses.

Market gaps can be identified by conducting market surveys or asking the staff who are in close contact with the targeted clients/businesses.  Taking into account existing services will allow business membership organisations to more accurately position themselves and avoid conflicts with existing IP services providers, some of whom maybe members, or partners.

Orienting IP services towards the customer will help business membership organisations to tailor them appropriately; delivering an IP service to an SME or an innovator will be different from delivering that service to a multinational company. Customer-orientation can be achieved through conducting user satisfaction surveys or again, by obtaining feedback from the staff who are usually in direct contact with the targeted clients/businesses.

The format and type of IP services to be designed will also depend on the organisation’s objectives, budget and available human resources. To create concrete IP initiatives, business membership organisations must first get their members to understand how they can use IP in their business strategy to improve their top and bottom-lines.

Spending the necessary time and dedicating sufficient resources to this essential first step in raising member awareness will ensure there is membership support and demand necessary for developing further IP services. In conceptualising what an effective awareness-raising programme looks like in its final form, business membership organisations should demonstrate the competitive advantage gained by a company implementing an IP programme into its overall business strategy.

Highlighting how IP can be utilised to successfully differentiate a company in the marketplace will resonate with members who are constantly seeking new ways to create value. Business membership organisations should focus on a business-centric idea of IP that intertwines IP with business management, rather than looking at IP as a separate issue.

You Might Also Like