USC’s New Class Shows It’s All in on Patents

What’s the secret to success that every aspiring entrepreneur has learned from watching the smash hit reality-TV show Shark Tank?

“Unless you have a patent or some proprietary technology,” Shark Tank host Robert Herjavec has said time and time again to contestants, “you’re gonna be in trouble.”

After which he invariably announces, “I’m out!”

To be sure, patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets — collectively, intellectual property (IP) — are not the only requirements for business success. But there is no denying that the intellectual property rights to an innovation — and knowing how to leverage them — are vital to getting funded by venture investors.

Nor is there any doubt that IP plays a pivotal role in powering today’s knowledge economy, where intangible assets such as IP represent more than 80 percent of the market value of all publicly traded companies. Indeed, intellectual-property-intensive industries now account for a surprising 38.2 percent of total US GDP, according to a recent US Department of Commerce report. That’s more than $6 trillion a year, more than the GDP of any other nation except China. IP-based industries are also responsible for 30 percent, of national employment, or roughly 40 million jobs.

Yet despite IP’s enormous role in the US economy, few universities offer any sort of course on IP to undergraduates. Among the first is the University of Southern California, which last fall launched a course on the basic workings of patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets. The new course, through the Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies within USC’s Marshall School of Business, aims to train tomorrow’s leaders in the skills they need to navigate our increasingly IP-driven economy.

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