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Are frameworks patentable?

If you are clever enough to invent something that has great potential, you almost certainly would seek a patent. The patent will safeguard your control over the manufacture of the invention and you will profit from it. If you write a book or an article you will automatically acquire the copyright which will ensure that your words of wisdom are yours and yours alone. However, if you come up with a model for improving the efficiency of an organisation, it will be copied by many and you will have little or no control about who uses your good idea.

There are dozens of frameworks. There are 100 business frameworks described on this website. There are limitations regarding the copying and publication of diagrams associated with the frameworks but there is nothing at all to stop people writing about them or using them. It’s a bit like recipes. You might think that your fantastic barbecue sauce is something that you can protect as an intellectual property but this is not the case. It simply isn’t thought to be unique enough. Coca-Cola has to keep its recipe secret because it can’t legally stop it being copied. A patentable invention has to be something that hasn’t existed before. That recipe that you thought was unique has almost certainly been made by someone else somewhere at some time.

So it is with frameworks. You may think you are the first person to weigh up the consideration of strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and threats facing a company. The trouble is, people have been contemplating these four business pressures for many years even though they may not have captured it as an acronym and called it SWOT.

You may not be able to patent or control the use of your framework, but this is not to say you can’t make good money out of it. Fred Reichheld wrote an article in 2003 in the Harvard Business Review. It was called “The One Number You Need to Grow” and it led to the wide application of the Net Promoter Score. Almost everyone in business is familiar with the NPS and use it in organisations to determine the loyalty of their customer base. Fred Reichheld couldn’t patent the Net Promoter Score but he was able to set up Satmetrix, a company that specialises in measuring NPS and establishes NPS benchmarks in different industries. It has also provided him with a good subject for at least three books in his name –The Ultimate Question, The Loyalty Effect, Winning On Purpose, and Loyalty Rules.

So, make as much use as you can of these different frameworks. There is no limit or cost in doing so. In fact, if they are a good framework, it is you that will profit from their use. And don’t feel too sorry for their inventors. Ansoff, Porter, Mintzberg, Kotler, Kano, Edward de Bono and Geiner's names will live a long time for posterity.


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