Strong customer relationships are integral to your organization and may well be the trigger for acquisition by a third party. IP assets within this area are of greatest value when there is an element of uniqueness, or where they serve as a barrier to entry to competitors. These customer relationships may be vital for market expansion, increases in sales, investment from interested third parties or upon company exit. The level of formality in these relationships is also of value, and close integration of your company and your customers reflects a long-term relationship and commitment to collaboration. Customer information is often closely guarded by companies and is usually held in the form of a database, a valuable IP asset in its own right.Critical partners or suppliers typically offer some level of competitive advantage to block out competitors, via an exclusivity clause or through product or market development. In each case, a company is usually seeking a competitive advantage from the relationship.
How do critical partners, suppliers and customers relate to me?
All of these relationships can also serve to increase your company’s brand and reputation, whether it is due to the caliber of customer contracts your company has secured, or the size of the network your business partners belong to.But these relationships, if not properly managed, can also carry a level of risk; for example, if you collaborate with your customers, suppliers and/or partners you may be generating new intellectual property. However, without proper clauses relating to foreground IP, ownership of these new intangible assets may be uncertain. Furthermore, if you’re a company that is regularly engaged in patenting activities, you may be at risk if you discuss your innovations with partners and suppliers prior to filing.