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Chapitre risks SMEs 2018

Corbel, P. and Reboud, S. « Le management du risque de propriété intellectuelle dans les PME », in B.L. Szostak, C. Teyssier and M. Séville, Le management des risques – Enjeux et défis pour les PME d’aujourd’hui et de demain, Management Prospective Editions, February 2018, pp. 157-176


In what has become known as the knowledge economy, intellectual property rights (henceforth IP) are everywhere. There are few sectors in which we can afford to pretend they do not exist. Indeed, opportunities for innovation exist in all sectors, even the most traditional ones, leading to increased opportunities for patenting. But IP rights do not only cover technical inventions, there are also trademarks, computer applications incorporating protected code, product design, access to databases, etc. All these areas, linked to the most fundamental activities of companies, can have IP implications (Grandstrand, 1999; Breesé, 2002; Corbel, 2007).
Faced with this situation, SMEs are not always the best equipped (Reboud et al., 2014). Almost as exposed to infringement actions by third parties, they do not have the resources or skills of large companies to deal with them. And this lack of resources, and often of understanding of this specific field, leads them to exploit less well the opportunities that these IP rights offer them. Yet these rights are also a means of negotiating with more powerful companies (Matthews et al., 2003).
This is all the more important given that, as the OECD pointed out in 2004, "Small enterprises are even more dependent than large enterprises on external sources of information, knowledge, know-how and technology to develop their capacity to innovate and reach their markets". As a result, SME managers have to develop strategic partnerships with customers, suppliers and "complementers", in order to gain access to financial and even technological resources to improve their competitive edge (Ostgaard and Birley, 1994). These activities have multiplied still further since the development of open innovation platforms and consortia bringing together a large number of players around vast, multidisciplinary innovation projects. Indeed, many of these platforms or approaches have been designed to bring SMEs together with major groups and research centres. While participation in such projects has major advantages for an SME, it is not without risks because of the inevitable power struggles, information asymmetries and size imbalances that exist within these heterogeneous groups.
In these different situations, it becomes particularly important for an SME, as part of its innovation management, to secure its IP in order to be able to protect its innovation efforts (Gans et al., 2002). According to the Observatoire de la Propriété Intellectuelle (INPI, 2013), patent filings by SMEs have been growing steadily for some years now, albeit slowly (around 1.3-1.4% on average per year), and unlike large companies or ETIs, where filings are mostly made by a small number of companies, SME applications are made by a large number of separate applicants: 1,871 SMEs for the 2,592 patent applications filed in 2015 (INPI, 2016).
However, most of the literature on the management of IP rights focuses on the behaviour of large companies. This chapter therefore identifies and characterises the main IP-related risks faced by SMEs and how they manage them... or could manage them. This should not should not lead to view IP rights solely in terms of the risks they generate. They also represent great opportunities for SMES. In this chapter, we hope to show that better management of IP risks also puts SMEs in a better position to exploit the opportunities.
The first part of this chapter answers the question: "Does IP rights management exist specifically for SMEs? As it turns out that the fundamentals are similar, but that it is still necessary to take account of certain particularities, we then proceed in two stages, which leads us first to mobilise the literature on IP rights, before going on to examine the situation of SMEs. The second part characterises IP risks and presents the main means used by companies to manage them, using the classic IP literature. Then, the third part deals with the adaptations that must be made when we talk about SMEs. Since there is no such thing as an SME and, on the contrary, a wide variety of them, we propose the following a typology of possible behaviours in the face of IP risk, based on that proposed by Mazzarol and Reboud (2009).

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