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I have the most valuable currency of the 21st century. So do you.

It was June 2011. Nortel Networks was sinking, and sinking fast. This Canadian behemoth, one of the juggernauts of the communications industry, had run into insurmountable financial difficulties and was on its way to final bankruptcy.

At its peak in the 1990s, it had been worth $250 billion, and had more than 90,000 employees. But Nortel had taken a kick in the stomach during the credit crunch, and was still struggling to get back into shape after the economic downturn in 2001 and 2002. It had been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since mid-2009.

By June 2011, receivers had sold off every asset that Nortel had ever amassed. After every building, vehicle, workstation, and chair had been sold, they had liquidated assets to the tune of $2.3 billion dollars. Disappointing for a company of that size and certainly less than creditors would have hoped for.

But there was one more asset that Nortel had amassed over the years, and which was to prove to be the most valuable asset it had: its patent portfolio.

It did this not by putting a price on their patents, not by hogging them around for people to have a look at and pick the good bits out. Rather, they did it by way of an auction.

A patent auction.

This might be a surprising concept to many, but auctions have emerged over the past 3 years as a viable way of selling intellectual property (IP), whether it be patents, trademarks, domain names, design rights, and copyright, by offering it publicly or privately to potentially interested parties (who are usually competitors amongst themselves to derive some price tension) and having them bid for it. It’s one of many new IP-based mechanisms that have emerged in the recent economy that entrepreneurs can benefit from if they understand the power of having a barrier to entry against competitors in the form of IP.

The good news is that there are many ways in which budding entrepreneurs and innovators can tap into this wealth and create IP-centric companies that are geared for maximum profit from their very outset.

IP is the Currency of the 21st Century

So here’s the good news: we are entering an era where our proprietary thoughts and ideas, our intellectual property, will become our most valuable commodities. In the 21st century, the currency of this new economy we are entering will be intellectual property – patents for inventions, trademarks to protect brands, copyright to protect software, design rights to protect industrial designs, and trade secrets to protect the magic of how business is done.

For this to happen, there are only three requirements: the information contained in these thoughts and ideas of ours must be in a format that others can understand, it must be capable of being protected somehow, and it must be of use to someone else.