Let’s talk intellectual property and the U.S. Postal Service for a moment. IP, as it’s commonly called, refers to intangible assets involving creativity and invention. Things like movies, books, computer software, engine design, and even the ZIP Code.
The Postal Service introduced the ZIP Code in 1963, but never patented it. Too late now, but imagine if someone or a business other than the Postal Service had. Odds are you would be paying – directly or indirectly – a fee to the patent holder every time you put a ZIP Code onto a letter or package, in addition to the postage or shipping cost. Moreover, the Postal Service as well as private couriers and shippers would likely be paying, too, as would the many other businesses that use and benefit from ZIP Codes, such as real estate and insurance companies.
In short, all stakeholders in the ZIP Code system, from everyday citizens to global logistics companies, would be at the mercy of a patent holder’s legal rights – and potential licensing fees.
While the ZIP Code is safely in the public domain, the same can’t be said of other mailing-related IP. And as our recently released white paper shows, while the Postal Service has patented some technologies, the agency lacks a fully developed, organization-wide strategy for managing and protecting its substantial IP assets. Such a strategy would help secure Postal Service and postal stakeholder access to useful innovations.
At the request of the OIG, experts at ipCapital evaluated the Postal Service’s current IP strategy. In addition to examining the Postal Service’s intellectual asset management processes, the experts performed a data-driven analysis of the agency’s patent portfolio and explored strategic models for IP development. The results led the OIG to outline the critical points and considerations of building a formal, scalable, and organization-wide IP strategy for the Postal Service.
Towards A Postal Service Intellectual Property Strategy could not be more timely. Patent claimants have alleged infringement and for the past year been pursuing legal action against mailers and other businesses for using bar codes and QR codes. Bar codes are a central part of operations not just for the Postal Service but the industry at large. The outcome of the cases, which are still pending, could have profound impact. If claimants prevail, will bar code users have to pay fees? What about mailpieces enhanced with some type of augmented reality – would they be subject to fees, too?
Tell us what you think: What is the right IP strategy for the Postal Service? Do you or does your business benefit from postal innovations? Would you be affected if access to them were blocked?