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IP Management Priorities for the Year of the Dog

Issued: January 25 2018

As IP managers across much of Asia prepare to welcome the Year of the Dog, they would do well to ensure that their IP portfolios are well groomed, but still have plenty of bite.


Faced with an increasingly competitive environment across different technologies and business sectors, IP managers must be ready to meet the challenges and maximize the opportunities that each new year brings. To do that, it is essential that IP assets remain relevant to the business and offer the right level of protection.


Here are three IP management priorities to help achieve that:


1. Don't bark up the wrong tree - make sure you align your IP with your organisation's business strategy

2. Keep your IP planning on a tight leash - the importance of developing a disciplined plan in a dynamic and rapidly changing IP environment 

3. Track down the right data to help you work smarter.



Don't bark up the wrong tree 


The most important thing IP portfolio managers can do in the Year of the Dog is to ensure alignment of their IP assets with their company’s overall business strategy. An ongoing problem within the IP industry is that many corporate IP departments do not truly understand their company’s objectives and business model.


An effective beginning starts with understanding the overall business strategy and objectives in addition to defining how IP will contribute to the overall business success. Shifting from an IP-centric to a business-centric strategy will ensure that IP directly contributes to the organization’s success.


Importantly, larger organizations need to ensure that IP aligns with the business at the individual product/market level. For each product market, there should be a distinct product strategy. IP managers should treat every product and market differently as many factors such as industry, product maturity, competitive landscape, geography, level of innovation will dictate the ideal IP strategy. So, engage with your internal business clients and ask them what they need. Also, determine what do we want to do? For example, do we want to drive innovation and/or ensure freedom to operate? Also, decide do I want to block a competitor and/or should I drive licensing revenue?


A critical success factor for IP mangers is their ability to communicate with their business clients in the workforce. The most effective IP managers spend time with their business counterparts to educate, but more significantly, to listen and understand the challenges and obstacles faced by the business. In the past, IP experts like Marshall Phelps, Vice-Chairman of the Center for Intellectual Property Understanding, and Ruud Peters, former Chief Intellectual Property Officer (CIPO) of Royal Philips have emphasized how their ability to communicate effectively with their business counterparts at Microsoft and Philips NV was key in developing effective IP strategies.


For IP law firms, IP definitely is the business. As the landscape evolves towards a buyer’s market and margins erode, managing both the bottom line and the top line has become a survival priority. Innovative tools promote attorney efficiency and productivity, while contributing to a firm’s competitive stance. Brooks Kushman, for example, is a law firm focused on exploring and utilizing emerging technologies to develop business through differentiation and increased value-add. As an early adopter of next-generation IP analytics, the firm identifies novel opportunities by leveraging portfolio analysis fueled by forward rejection data.


As noted by Bernard Tomsa, a Shareholder and Analytics Co-Chair at Brooks Kushman, “Once you begin to understand the scale of the daily practice changes made possible by newly available analytics tools, you cannot move fast enough to share these services with your clients.”



Keep your IP planning on a tight leash 


IP organizations are constantly evolving in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment, and must therefore develop a disciplined plan to remain competitive. Without keeping tight control of the IP planning process, there’s a danger your IP strategy will end up as messy as the proverbial dog’s breakfast. Outlined below are a few proven steps to develop a clear and disciplined plan:


1. Define objectives for your organization: what are the goals for your organization over a 3-5 year horizon?

2. Identify opportunities to achieve your objectives; e.g., lower barriers to innovation, budget management, ensure internal collaboration, maintain competitive intelligence, manage outside counsel, etc.

3. Prioritize and rank these objectives. IP managers will want to understand the impact, ROI and complexity to execute each opportunity. It also helps to understand the nature of these opportunities: operational vs strategic, IP vs business.

4. Develop a multi-year plan; group opportunities in phases over several years; start with the highest impact, low-hanging fruits.

5.  Execute, measure and manage.


Kimberly-Clark, for example, has a continuous and rigorous annual portfolio planning process. When Kimberly-Clark developed its initial plan, a priority for year 1 included a disciplined portfolio review. In year one, the corporation eliminated over 10% of its portfolio and saved an estimated $15 million. British American Tobacco was able to reduce IP operating costs by 40% over four years through pruning of unnecessary IP assets.


The final step of producing such plans is to make “continuous improvement” a key element of your department’s DNA. There are immense gravitational forces towards remaining in the comfort of the status quo. A disciplined IP manager remembers that the competitive landscape, best practice, IP tools and technology evolve constantly, which requires re-visiting the plan and priorities on a regular basis.



Track down the right data 


Simply put, there are vast amounts of information available now to help you make optimal decisions. Progress in the area of IP Big Data, analytics and AI are transforming our industry. Taken in isolation, data points add limited value.


However, when you can track down the right data, assemble and deliver it in an easily consumed format, and at the right time, actionable intelligence will have a direct impact on your IP organization and your internal or external clients. Business executives, attorneys, practitioners, portfolio managers will all benefit from timely access to actionable intelligence. This applies to every stage gate in the innovation and IP lifecycles and many business decisions.


Easier access to prosecution analytics is changing the IP industry. Transparency and visibility performance impacts both corporate IP departments and IP practices, for example:


1. Portfolio managers now have access to multiple data points to evaluate the performance of their outside counsel in terms of quality, timeliness and cost of the work product.

2. IP practitioners in private practices can leverage the same information to benchmark themselves and separate themselves from the competition to develop existing or new business.


Smart analytics will help IP professionals develop better strategies, make more informed decisions, manage costs and workflows, support your business and protect your products.The age of smart IP is today, and IP managers should be early adopters of the latest solutions.


To recap, IP managers need to be dogged in aligning IP with the business; developing a disciplined plan, which is measured and managedfor continuous improvement; and creating an environment where both IP and business executives have access to timely actionable intelligence to support decision-making and strategy.


Following these three priorities rather than simply an ‘IP for IP’s sake’ approach will help in devising a high-impact,business-led IP strategy that supports the greater vision of the business. In this way, organisations can dispense with bloated portfolios that are expensive to maintain, ensuring that the entire IP management process is attuned with the business - and that the tail does not end up wagging the dog!

About the Author

Vincent Brault serves as Senior Vice President of Product and Innovation at IP software company Anaqua. In this capacity, he is responsible for leading the product and innovation strategy. Vincent has over 20 years of experience in the IP management software and services market.


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