One of the reasons I am so fascinated with the Skype saga is that it hinges on the management (or mismanagement) of a key intangible asset. Joff Wilds over at his IAM blog asks the yet unasked question about the Skype deal:
If I were an eBay investor, I would be asking the company’s board some very hard questions about all of this. And if I were sitting on that board, I would be thinking very carefully about how to ensure something like it never happens again.
Joff’s answer to the latter question is the creation of a Chief Intellectual Property Officer (CIPO). That person would go beyond the IP council’s role in the legal department to encompass all of the aspects of IP – “from strategic development and prosecution, through to litigation, exploitation and value creation.”
I have some sympathy for the CIPO idea. But I think it too limiting. It could end up treating IP as something outside of the company’s normal operations rather than a key asset. It also ignores the broader sweep of intangible assets. In truth, the job of fostering and exploiting company’s intangible assets is the job of the CEO (and the COO). Intangibles needed to be baked into the company’s DNA. The danger of the CIPO is that IP becomes seen as something over there that is someone else’s responsibility. A CIPO could help the CEO and COO; it could also become just another corporate silo.
And as Joff points out, it is also part of the oversight job of the Board. Should the Skype deal fall about because of mismanagement of a key intangible asset, I think eBay management (past and present) and the Board will have a lot to answer for.