Friday, 30 December 2016

Managing crowdsourced intellectual property

The following article was written by Emily Treen.

At its core, crowdsourcing is entrenched in the idea that many minds and hands are better than a few. As a term, crowdsourcing may be relatively new but the practice itself spans centuries. The Australian flag and even the marine chronometer that Captain James Cook used to navigate the Australian coastline were both products of crowdsourcing. Despite its long existence and recently popularity, crowdsourcing it is not without hazards, and academics and practitioners are now seeking to extract the most value from crowdsourcing while mitigating risk.


Managing crowdsourced intellectual property is the focus of the research article: Click here to agree: Managing intellectual property when crowdsourcing solutions, which examines the handling of intellectual property acquired through crowdsourcing campaigns. It covers important questions such as: Should organizations seek to acquire all intellectual property from each crowd participant or only a few? Should the crowd participants retain any of the rights to their creations or ideas? Under what circumstances should organizations seek more or less property rights from the crowd? How can organizations set and communicate expectations in a way that is beneficial for the organization and the crowd? Also, what are the consequences of not taking these questions into consideration?

Jeremy de Beer and Adam Soliman from the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law teamed up with Ian McCarthy and me, Emily Treen, from Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business in Vancouver to bring our respective skills and knowledge in law and business to answer these questions. The project was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which provided our team with the necessary funding to perform the substantial research to produce a result that would stimulate academic discussion and provide a useful framework for managers when considering to acquire intellectual property from the crowd.

Based on analysis of many crowdsourcing campaigns, we found the management of intellectual property to be a real issue that presents more questions than answers. Often, organizations engaged in crowdsourcing leave themselves exposed to legal repercussions or backlash from the crowd, as a result of not anticipating or managing intellectual property risks a priori.

The four of us collaborated to develop a paper that was first presented at the Open and User Innovation conference, held at Harvard University in Boston in August 2016. At the conference, the importance of our research was strengthened when we were approached by numerous practitioners who had experienced the challenges of managing intellectual property in crowdsourcing and were seeking the answers that the team was trying to uncover. After meeting together and presenting the work at the conference, and with inspiration from the high-quality research of our colleagues and inquiries from practitioners, we left the conference with renewed enthusiasm and ideas for improving our contribution. Owing to the funding provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which allowed us to attend the conference together, we were able to strengthen the article considerably.

The primary contribution of the article is that it presents a novel way for academics and managers to manage intellectual property from the crowd. The answers lie in understanding approaches for acquiring sufficient intellectual property from a crowd and limiting the risks of using intellectual property from a crowd, and using appropriate ‘terms and conditions’ to balance and mitigate the risks associated with soliciting solutions from a crowd. Based on differences in how organizations acquire intellectual property and limit associated risks, we illustrate four approaches for managing intellectual property when crowdsourcing solutions, which are described in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Legal approaches to crowdsourcing intellectual property (de Beer et al 2017)

The framework illustrates the legal approaches that organizations can use to manage the value, risks and effectiveness of crowdsourcing. Based on these approaches and other insight during the research process, the article also contains useful recommendations for formulating effective strategies when capturing intellectual property from the crowd. The research uncovers how the terms and conditions can be used to manage these risks, by focusing on acquiring the necessary and appropriate rights from the crowd while limiting liabilities to the organization. In Table 1 we expand on the four examples and IP management approaches shown in Figure 1.


Table 1: Example organizations and approaches to managing crowdsourcing intellectual property (de Beer et al 2017)

This project not only provided the platform to strengthen the relationships between both universities across the two departments, but afforded us the opportunity to strengthen personal ties with new colleagues. The funding for this research allowed the two sides to join forces over a great distance to produce a valuable contribution that will support the progression of this much-needed discussion about handling intellectual property in crowdsourcing.

This blog post is based on research in the following research article:

Click here to agree: Managing intellectual property when crowdsourcing solutions by Jeremy de Beer, Ian P. McCarthy, Adam Solimana and Emily Treen in Business Horizons

Presentation slides for this research can be viewed here:





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