India: The Product Life Cycle In The Context Of Intellectual Property

Last Updated: 24 September 2013
Article by Srinjoy Banerjee

From the moment you wake up till you settle at night, you are surrounded by Intellectual Property (IP). From the alarm clock that wakes you to the mouthwash you use at night the IP's are really everywhere. Recently, I noticed a relatively newer form of hand pump, which was quite different from the hand pumps romanticized in the movies. I tried it, a bit unsuccessfully I must say, but found its usage easier than the old pumps. The sheer ingenuity of the inventor, made me conscious of the universality of the concept and the fact that barring the IP of the One above, there is no man-made article to my knowledge which would not be covered by it in one way or the other.

Intellectual Property has now become a major concern for not only companies or organisations but also the common man. A small builder the other day was recommending to a client to buy a "SINTEX" tank as it was a branded product rather than a tank of a local vendor. It has in fact become ingrained in the minds of every individual, that a brand is directly proportional to a quality product. As the lose translation of a saying goes, you buy an expensive product once, but a cheap product you have to keep rebuying! Quality speaks and so the manufacturer rightly puts a premium to that quality.

So what exactly makes a brand or a product to be what it stands as today -Marketing? Branding? Quality? Currency of the product? Or a mixture of various factors.

Economics & the principles of Management teach us of a product life cycle - Introduction, Promotion, Growth, Maturity and Decline.

Applying that in relation to a product and its IP, at the stage of Introduction, a business would tend to bring in the product and gauge its acceptability in the market. Before doing so, the manufacturer has to ascertain whether that product needs to be covered by any patent or design. In some cases where the business owner feels that the IP is too sensitive to give out, he would rather protect it under a trade secret (e.g. KFC).

The investment made in these above forms of IP would ideally need to be covered at this stage rather than later. To misquote a saying, once introduced a rose has to be called by a name!! What name one uses, defines the product and the product will either succeed or fail by this name. So the name of the product becomes an important decision to be taken by the development team. The investment in scoping out and filing for the IP then is at the maximum here.

At the next stage of Promotion, the name goes around. The IP (Trademark/Patent/Design) and the product go hand-in-hand. The market for that production is enhanced or deteriorates by the sheer effectiveness of the promotion strategy, which is intrinsically linked with the trade name. At this stage the promotion of the product and therefore the usage of the IP will be at its peak.

At the next stage of Growth, the seeds of promotion should have started reaping its benefits. Accordingly a business would look to consolidate the product and taper off the promotion slowly.

Once the product has peaked it would slowly reach a plateau, at the stage of Maturity, which would keep the returns coming in, before moving south. At this stage a business would naturally look to work out various strategies including sub-branding or rebranding to keep the currency of the product. It would look at new options for sustaining the market.

At the stage of Decline the market would try and shelf the product and the IP associated with it. From the point of view of the IP, this it can do in the following ways:

  1. It can shelf the product and withdraw the trademark associated with it.
  2. Keep the trademark running for a future rethink but slowly withdraw the product while introducing a fresh one.
  3. Use the trademark to launch the fresh product.
  4. In terms of the patent or design it would have achieved its returns and if it is still in force the right owner would normally tend to keep it.

Any business owner would look to position their brand and the IP from the commercial perspective. A brand would therefore be sustainable only if it lives out its life cycle in unison with the business plans. Some exceed expectations whereas for some a rethink is required right at the beginning stages itself. In the end the intellectual property in a product would only be acquired by a business if it makes commercial sense. Product Life Cycle and Intellectual Property are therefore two sides of the same coin, one complementing the other!!!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Srinjoy Banerjee
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