Case | HBS Case Collection | May 2014 (Revised June 2014)

Intellectual Property Strategy at North Technology Group—Sailing Downwind

by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and William W. Fisher III

Abstract

North Sails is the world's leading sailmaker. The company commands a global market share of more than 50% and is largely responsible for the rapid technological progress in the sailmaking industry over the past 30 years. CEO Tom Whidden needs to consider how to best defend the company's leading position. Specifically, North currently uses neither patents nor copyright to protect its technology. The company even allows its designers to use its software when they do independent work. The case encourages a discussion of the role of intellectual property rights in safeguarding technology and know-how. By highlighting the costs and benefits of patents and copyright, the case points to a challenge that is common across many companies: Their most valuable assets are largely intangible, and these assets cannot easily be pinned down and protected. North's solution to this challenge is highly unusual and creative.

Keywords: intellectual property; technology; competitive advantage; Technology; Competitive Advantage; Intellectual Property;

Citation:

Oberholzer-Gee, Felix, and William W. Fisher III. "Intellectual Property Strategy at North Technology Group—Sailing Downwind." Harvard Business School Case 714-403, May 2014. (Revised June 2014.)