How Associations Can Better Leverage Their Intellectual Property

Association IP June 26, 2019 By: Brian Buss and Doug Bania

Associations often use intellectual property assets, ranging from branding to content, to bring in revenue. But if you don’t take the time to periodically re-evaluate how you’re using your IP, you could be missing out on new revenue streams.

As associations try to stretch every precious dollar, they often overlook a revenue stream already in house: their intellectual property (IP). Intangible assets, branding, constituent relations, digital content, and proprietary data sets used in daily business can all be leveraged for income that can be reinvested.

The first step of any strategy to leverage IP and proprietary assets is to identify which IP and intangibles exist at your organization so they can be monetized. For many organizations, these include brands and trusted relationships with their members. Some may have educational assets. For an organization we worked with, the asset inventory included a full catalog of in-person and online training courses for automotive repair professionals. The association also provided a recognition program with trademark-protected awards recognizing levels of training.

While the organization had developed a valuable portfolio of proprietary assets and IP and faced little competition for its services, revenue growth had stagnated. It relied primarily on one set of stakeholders to fund its operations and future innovations, when it needed to diversify to help automotive repair professionals keep pace with rapidly advancing technology.

Evaluating Assets’ Contribution

All associations should have a foundational understanding of which proprietary assets are contributing to their success—and how much. By building an IP inventory and gathering information about an organization’s performance, IP valuation experts can calculate and understand the value of its IP assets. Value should first be measured based on an asset’s contribution to the association rather than to a hypothetical buyer.

All associations should have a foundational understanding of which proprietary assets are contributing to their success—and how much.

In the case of the association offering automotive repair training, its courses were the assets making the largest contribution, yet its pricing approach—based on length of course, with little subscription, bundle, or package pricing—either underpriced or overpriced some courses and sometimes unnecessarily extended others. This not only frustrated constituents but posed a risk to the association as it explored revamping its pricing and revenue models. The organization needed new pricing structures and funding models to leverage its unique IP, enhance revenue growth, and invest for the future. Tapping the strength of its most valuable IP was key to securing its future success.

Putting It to Work

Once association leaders know what assets they have and how they contribute to the bottom line, they should look at best practices in the field, comparing their operations against the marketplace to see if their pricing is on par. The pricing exercise should take into account customer benefit, demand, competition, cost, supply, and promotion aspects. Whether selling products or memberships or seeking donations, pricing should reflect the value of the organization’s proprietary assets.

It can also be helpful to model different income scenarios. For the automotive training association, subscription and package-based purchases of courses and knowledge products emerged as a more sustainable option than the previous model of selling courses one at a time.

Based on an IP valuation and a financial comparison of strategic alternatives, the association has begun implementing a training subscription model, allowing it to reap income from their brand assets rather than sales of individual products and services. The previous model limited the organization’s ability to grow revenue without also significantly increasing its operating expenses. However, after discovering the value of its IP, the association successfully shifted to an operating model where industry professionals paid annually for certifications affiliated with the brand. This enabled smoother interactions with constituents and allowed the association to scale more easily.

Association leaders face the difficult task of serving diverse stakeholders while ensuring their organization’s health and longevity. A robust valuation-based IP strategy can produce additional and more diverse sources of revenue and greater recognition for the association—ensuring delivery on the mission for years to come.

Brian Buss

Brian Buss is a founding principal at Nevium Intellectual Property Consultants in San Diego.

Doug Bania

Doug Bania is a founding principal at Nevium Intellectual Property Consultants in San Diego.