Intellectual Property Protection is a vital issue for startups

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Professor Loretta Huszák visited the University of Kassel, Germany within the Erasmus + exchange programme in January-February 2017. The interview was conducted for the newsletter of the Science Park Kassel (you can read it in German here). Please read the shortened English version of the interview below.

Professor Huszák, you have been working with the IBS International Business School for the last couple of years. Would you please shortly introduce your focus topics within teaching and research?

My actual focus as a lecturer is the development of innovative ideas and entrepreneurial competences. From this angle, the primary aims, the long-term, strategic importance of intellectual property (IP) may seem to fade into the background. I try not just to boost the entrepreneurial mind-sets of the students, but to think of a company's development processes in terms of a "value chain". At IBS I teach, among others, the courses Entrepreneurship and Business Strategy. Within these courses, I focus on the uniqueness of the students’ business ideas. Businesses that intend to succeed on the marketplace face the challenge of changing and developing their products, services, processes, and business models. Innovation and uniqueness are not to be divided. Since these are the most exclusive assets of the entrepreneurial ideas, they should be protected from imitators, otherwise the competitors might be able to gain an unfair advantage out of these assets. In my courses, we try to extract as many aspects of the value assets as possible, since these make the entrepreneurial idea unique. Innovations are decisive in the genesis and continuation of business, and should have a direct impact upon their management.    

Your research focus is the importance of intellectual property protection for startups. Why is this a difficult subject for many startuppers? And why should they deal with these issues? Do you have any hints for startups?

I can very much understand that startups have an extremely long “to-do” list in the early phase of their operation. They frequently put intellectual property related issues to the very end of this list. However, the aspects of how to protect the most valuable assets of a young enterprise should not be forgotten. Quite the contrary, it should be clear for all entrepreneurs that many mistakes or negligence in IP management cannot be corrected retroactively, or only with great difficulty and at great expense. In addition, investors won’t be enthusiastic for a badly managed IP strategy.

Therefore, my first recommendation to founders is to remain open and alert for IP related issues, and to look for reliable information. The list of useful tools is long. A technical prior art research (“state of the art”) might be useful not just if the startup wants to be sure that the technological idea  they intend to apply is really new, but it helps to see which technology the (supraregional) competitors use, how their competitive strategy looks etc. The similar situation is true for the marketing aspects: logos, advertising slogans, taglines, protected visuals, the design testify the marketing strategy of the rivals. Nobody should infringe these protected IP assets, but smart entrepreneurs can learn a lot from this information.

What I seek to pass on to my students and to the startups is that they should not let the complexity of the issue scare them off. In their strategy, they should first gather reliable information on the topic, and then try to make use of it step by step. Applying methodological approaches like Lean Canvas methodology, with focus on the uniqueness and curiosity of the business idea, can be very helpful.

Why did you choose Kassel University to visit within your ERASMUS+ study trip?

Kassel – in the federal state of Hesse, is the home of a partner university of IBS Budapest within the Erasmus network, it is also the city of documenta. It is an industrial city in the middle of Germany, with important plants. It was heavily bombed and destroyed during the 2nd World Word and then rebuilt. An industrial and scientific city, with strong infrastructure and impactful university. These were my first thoughts before I took the train to Germany for an Erasmus study trip.

Why exactly Kassel? Because their entrepreneurship education is strong. Because they have more than 10 years of experience in this terrain. And because their concepts for entrepreneurship education show much further than “just” university education. They have been combining it for many years with research and – innovative approach! – with transfer, meaning the several forms of cooperation with external partners, from startups through patent information centres to incubation services.

Entrepreneurship training is implemented at the University of Kassel by a new, interdisciplinary organizational unit, the Research and Teaching Centre for Entrepreneurial Thinking and Acting. This central institution of the University promotes initiative and entrepreneurial competence of the students and intends to improve their readiness to take on responsibility for innovative processes. The methodological focus is on how to improve the competencies required for their successful implementation in an organization (intrapreneurship) or within the scope of self-employment (entrepreneurship). 

For the coming years, the University of Kassel has set ambitious goals in terms of Entrepreneurship Education: by 2023 80% of its students should have the opportunity to strengthen and foster entrepreneurial thinking and acting. To reach this goal, aspects of entrepreneurial thinking and acting should be integrated into as many courses as possible, where appropriate. Thus, the University of Kassel works in line with the recent recommendations of the European Commission, which requires its member states to ensure that the key competence "entrepreneurship" is contained in teaching plans for higher education.

Methodologically, the University of Kassel implies different approaches to explore new ideas for products and services. In the internationally widely used Design Thinking methodology, special attention is paid to the relationship between users and use, so that the use or value proposition (benefits for the users) can be clearly presented in detail. As this aspect is crucial for the success of innovations, this approach is particularly useful in terms of improvement. Students from different faculties team up in small, multidisciplinary groups of three to five people working on a real problem. I wanted to learn more about design thinking methodology, and I really hope that in the future I will have the chance to give it a try at IBS.

BSc in Management