What is IP Commerce?

IP commerce is a growing, cross-industry discipline that encompasses the entire supply chain for the development, creation, production, distribution, and monetization of intellectual property. 

Fundamentally, every company, collective, or individual whose intellectual property acts as a revenue-generating “product” participates in IP commerce, often colloquially referred to as “rights, licensing, and royalties.” 

So, what does this mean in everyday life?


  • A major studio looking to launch a branded worldwide streaming service with fresh new content and as much library catalog as legally possible
  • An author whose captivating book has topped best seller lists and is primed for consumer branding and transmedia storytelling
  • An apparel company launching a new clothing line for children’s pajamas featuring globally-recognized characters from a superhero universe 
  • A design team at a global high tech software company ready to release a cutting edge consumer productivity application using licensed code libraries and university-developed AI algorithms
  • A director, producer, and designer trio who have just wrapped coding the pilot for what market research shows may well be the next smash multiplayer VR gaming experience
  • An international team of scientists who has worked to create a life-saving vaccine by combining the research of dozens of labs around the world
  • An established commercial real estate brand needing to streamline its franchising operations, offering improved auditability and accuracy across franchisee royalty accounting and reporting processes

Each commendable act of creation only has the power to change the world if in fact it reaches the world. The IP must be delivered to consumers, with the creators, collaborators, and contributors fairly compensated so the cycle of innovation is sustained. This is the business of IP commerce.

Life in the IP Ecosystem

As IP owners find partners interested in licensing a property for specific purposes, the remaining sales opportunities quickly splinter along a myriad of rights-based dimensions such as time, geography, types of use, language, and exclusivity. Assuming the rights holders manage to interpret dense legal documents and translate them into a unified format their whole team can share, they also need assurances that the deal doesn’t conflict with exclusive agreements with other partners, or in any way go outside of the company’s legal rights to the property. And the moment teams begin to execute a deal, the company is plunged into a pit of accounting where they must track the remaining lifetime value of the asset, properly recognize revenue, and forever ensure that all parties due royalties or profit participation receive timely statements and accurate payments–each according to their respective deal terms. 

And this is just the creator-owner perspective; IP buyers, distributors, and funders all have their own views of this ecosystem that both mirror and complement IP creators while bringing additional complexity and nuance. In the world of IP commerce, those who manage to navigate the sea of rights and royalties can attain significant compensation in exchange for their works of creation, and thereby put themselves in the best position to fund further innovations.

Who Drives IP Commerce?

Trends are emerging within the IP commerce space that unite seemingly very different types of businesses. Regardless of how a piece of IP is ultimately instantiated in physical or digital form for the purposes of monetizable consumption, all the players in this space strive to define and realize the quantifiable value of great ideas they’ve birthed (or licensed from other creators). A circuit board designer, a pharmaceutical company, and a student athlete ready to sign a Name, Image, and Likeness deal have each generated a completely different type of marketable property, but all share some fundamental goals and challenges.

IP commerce is the heart of many industries, and within any given company, it demands thoughtful contributions from and tight collaboration among a collection of departments. Though perhaps commonly considered a strictly legal matter, the business of intellectual property goes far beyond copyright filings and infringement litigation, with every part of the supply chain affected by IP commerce concerns. The researchers and creatives responsible for the inception of IP go by many names–author, scientist, artist, engineer–and merely spark the flame that every surrounding team must keep alive and spreading. 

  • Sales teams need to know exactly what rights are legally available for which calendar ranges for every combination of relevant dimensions such as territory, language, and distribution channel. 
  • The shape of the deals they make is often determined by an internal understanding of Fulfillment teams’ capacity and inventory. E.g., you produced several English-language TV shows and a network in Japan is interested in licensing that content, but only for episodes where you already have a Japanese dub version on hand. 
  • The Legal department needs to be confident that all deal terms are accurately captured and clearly communicated to avoid conflicts such as selling something for which underlying rights have not been secured or have already been sold exclusively to another entity. 
  • Accounting orchestrates and tracks payments to all parties in and/or out for the entire life of the contract.
  • Security and Compliance teams rely on guardrails and fail proof auditability of actions taken by all those other departments. 

This all adds up to an enormous burden on IT resources, who must understand every facet of the IP business well enough to enable all these operations inside an efficient, integrated system.

Compensation for Innovation

The past two decades have seen the rise and popularization of the creator economy, where new production tools and distribution platforms have lowered the bar to entry for IP creation and thus welcomed many more entrants into the space–and technologies such as generative AI might well accelerate that trend in the near future. However, this is not to say that every creator is independently equipped to monetize and rake in all profits against their properties. On the contrary, the art of IP sales is a discipline unto itself, and in fact plenty of money changes hands as part of the common practice of transferring complete or partial IP rights between companies, long before end consumers encounter a tangible product. 

Consider a beloved character originating from a book series, whose movie and theme park rights have been sold exclusively and in perpetuity to a major studio, while a consumer brands company has purchased the rights to slap that character onto t-shirts and lunchboxes in all English-speaking territories, and yet another company pays for the right to sell a virtual reality experience set in that imaginary universe. Or attempt to follow the money owed to a cover song’s performer and record label for streaming or playback in a public space versus what’s owed to the original songwriter and publisher for the same uses, if you want a taste of the dizzyingly complex, multi-party challenges presented by rights and royalties management. Ultimately, once a path to monetization has been carved out for a work of IP, its creators deserve compensation for their innovation. At the same time, they need to be prepared to share the wealth with others who contributed to the construction or sale of the property.

Exercise Your Rights

The business of IP commerce is as daunting as it is ubiquitous across industries, but its challenges need not snuff out the fire of innovation. At Rightsline, our main passion is to empower people to exercise IP rights to their fullest extent. Companywide alignment on asset availabilities and sales objectives is the key that unlocks the full value of properties, so we continuously enhance our Rights Explorer and other purpose-built reporting tools to ensure our customers miss no opportunities to cultivate and capitalize on IP. Financial deal terms are not likely to trend towards simplicity anytime soon, so we continue to add to our collection of calculation scenarios handled, thanks to a financial engine that can accomplish anything at any volume. 

We actively work with leaders in sectors from media and publishing to pharma and high tech, in order to understand evolving problems and to iterate on solutions in our monthly software updates. Every toolset and improvement we’ve ever released is thanks to decades of close collaborations with customers, and to our hunger for understanding and solving problems across all types of businesses. If you, too, are interested in learning from the experience of other companies inside and outside your industry, then follow the Rightsline blog throughout this year as we explore the constantly changing world of IP commerce.