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Goodwin Procter didn’t realize it, but it was sitting on technology for which other law firms would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars. A consultant hired to tweak the software powering the Boston law firm’s corporate intranet told the firm that the application might be worth licensing to other firms. But at what cost to Goodwin Procter’s competitiveness? Stephen Charkoudian, a partner at the firm, said the law firm was at first surprised but then had to weigh the pros and cons associated with giving potential competitors access to software that helped Goodwin Procter make its operations more efficient. “The real tension [in intellectual property licensing] is around identifying what gives you an advantage in the marketplace and not giving that advantage up through licensing out those systems,” Charkoudian said. “You identify that which is valuable, but not so valuable that you are giving up your trade secrets.” In the end, the law firm decided that, for competitive reasons, licensing the software wouldn’t be a good idea. But as it weighed the issue, the conservative New England firm discovered what many other companies have realized: Intellectual property beyond patents could be worth hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars if packaged and sold to other businesses. But Goodwin Procter is not quite ready to take that step. Trudy Ernst, director of the firm’s knowledge management organization, said that as a business that deals primarily with intellectual property, a law firm must look carefully at the idea of commercializing its knowledge and selling it. Ernst’s division tracks all the innovations the firm comes up with that could make life easier for attorneys and keep them from reinventing the wheel for every case and contract. Generally, the IP that the knowledge management group institutionalizes benefits firm lawyers, or leads to services that are established to benefit the firm’s clients, such as private extranets for clients where they can track information. “It’s more business development,” Ernst said of the services. “Once you have the template established, the incremental cost is pretty minor, and producing the work for the client is something we charge for anyway, so there’s little additional cost.” Companies that make products, however, don’t have to face the dilemma of charging for their knowledge and, as such, have long embraced the idea of commercializing intangible technology. “Commercializing software is an enormous trend,” said John Dull, the former head of licensing for E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. and now owner of IP consulting firm Fairthorne.

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