The New Regular: Small Businesses Need IP "Corpsplaining"

Jim Blasingame

This is the 16th edition of my New Regular series, which has the singular purpose of delivering small businesses safely to the other side of the pandemic abyss. Normal was just inducted into the Irrelevance Hall of Fame, joining payphones, VHS tapes, and, sadly, fellow 2020 inductees, the hug and the handshake.
There are innumerable ways that the small business sector is better than Corporate America, and all are ingredients of the legendary Main Street special sauce, regularly chronicled here. But in at least three disciplines – human resources, marketing, and intellectual property (IP) – most small business owners should sit still for some corpsplaining from the big guys. Corpsplaining – “You say you know, but let’s review anyway” – is my latest coinage. It’s like what ladies call “mansplaining,” only not as cute. 
Saving the first two Big Business advantages for another day, let’s discuss intellectual property in terms of operating your post-pandemic business in the New Regular marketplace. Stay with me because your small firm eats IP by the gigabit. In fact, you couldn’t function without it.
Historically, the strongest cavemen, the biggest horses, the fastest ships, the largest factories, and most inventory all had an advantage over punier competitors. But a pair of 20th-century surveys conducted twenty years apart revealed the timing of an unprecedented historic shift in how businesses use assets as leverage.
Conducted in the late 1970s, the first survey discovered how businesses used the two major asset classes to drive their business model: physical stuff, like machines and rolling stock; and intellectual property (IP), like patents and trademarks. The results showed 80% of leverage came from physical assets, with IP powering the rest.
A generation later, when Internet access was called “dial-up,” that same question was asked again. This time the results indicated the two numbers had almost inverted: 73% IP and the rest tools and trucks. Less gasoline and more gigahertz.
If you’re wondering why respondents to both surveys could answer asset leverage questions so specifically, it’s because they were all big businesses, where such metrics are tracked regularly. Alas, not so much out here on Main Street, and that’s where the corpsplaining comes in handy. Small business survival requires thinking more like Corporate America about leveraging IP.
It took humans 10,000 years to go from mammoth to mainframe, and only a couple of generations to go from mainframe to mobile. So, in 2020, we shouldn’t have to take a survey to see the increased velocity of business leverage conversion from analog-to-digital, physical to intellectual.
Unfortunately, even though IP is essential to success in the marketplace, most small business owners just don’t think about it much. For example, how conscious are you that your business uses two types of IP?
To help get IP more on your radar, the Blasingame Mint has struck two new acronyms: OPIP and YPIP.
OPIP stands for Other People’s Intellectual Property. Examples include handy digital tools your business leverages to serve customers, like Microsoft Word, Google Chrome, Intuit QuickBooks, and the 186 mobile apps on your phone. As your technology leverage increasingly ramps to meet New Regular customer expectations, train your people how to blend OPIP with the second IP category.
YPIP stands for Your Proprietary Intellectual Property. If you’ve never patented an invention, created an app, or wrote a book, you may deny owning YPIP. But what about your company name? Have you registered that trademark? What about a service offering you’ve branded and promote in the marketplace? Have you registered a service mark? If you post content – written, audio, or video – on your website or anywhere else, have you identified it with a copyright? All of that is YPIP.
Now let’s get closer to our daily involvement with the hardest working form of IP, especially out here on Main Street: the trade secret. Think Colonel Sander’s “11 herbs and spices,” and Coke’s secret recipe (it’s not just caramel and fizz).
Your customer lists – names, contact information, purchasing records, etc. – are regular and valuable YPIP. But the many things you know about the habits of those customers, including new, post-pandemic expectations compared to past behavior, are your trade secrets. How about your delivery routes, which you’ve created over the years based on customer specifications, traffic patterns, vehicles, and staff? Yep, that’s YPIP in the form of trade secrets.
The pandemic has punched into overdrive the already accelerating shift to more IP leverage. Main Street businesses that survive and thrive will blend OPIP and YPIP to create strategic, unique, and maybe secret alloys.
OPIP will be easier to quantify because it’s packaged and delivered off the shelf, ready to eat. But start being more conscious of and intentional about YPIP. And like the Colonel and Coke, keep your trade secrets secret until someone pays you big bucks for it.
In the post-pandemic, New Regular era, your small business has an advantage: You can create that OPIP-YPIP alloy and blend it with Main Street values to create the legendary special sauce customers love. With all their money, neither Amazon nor Walmart can do that.
And they have to conquer the world – you don’t.
Write this on a rock ... Operating in the New Regular economy, you can’t afford to wait for a competitor to corpsplain either OPIP or YPIP to you.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.


Print page