There is a lot of potential value in owning intellectual property. Simply possessing IP, however, is only one small piece of the puzzle. In order to fully maximize these innovations, it is important to view them as part of the foundation of your business, not a superficial furnishing to elevate it after the fact.

This starts with your business plan.

Understanding the market

The first step in creating an effective business plan is to determine the viability of a potential company. That means analyzing not just what is out there, but how your business is different. Oftentimes, this distinction comes down to intellectual property.

Consider doing an inventory of your IP assets. This can help determine which ones are vital to the success of your business. Plus, by understanding this yourself, you can better make the case for your business to potential investors, licensees or buyers.

Protect your base IP

Once you are confident in the strategic value of your intellectual property, you’ll want to safeguard those assets. There are two elements to this.

First, work with a legal team to determine how to best protect your IP from outsiders both domestically and internationally. This can include tools such as patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secret protections.

Second, consider internal controls. Contracts with employees and third parties should include language to prevent the improper sharing or misuse of your IP. You may want to establish company policies limiting access to IP information as well.

Continue building – and protecting

It is rarely enough to create one good idea and expect it to carry you into the future. As one Forbes writer points out, you need to innovate on top of your initial innovation, looking at how your current IP can be modified to address different needs or apply to new markets.

Then, you need to proactively protect those innovations before someone else nabs them. That may come in the form of provisional patent applications, for example.

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the long-term viability of a business is increasingly tied to its technological or digital advancements. Maximizing this differentiator can be the difference between success and failure. If you cannot properly identify and safeguard these advantages, none of your other plans may matter.