The Current State of IP Strategy

What are some of the major challenges currently facing IP Managers? On Sept 12, Managing Intellectual Property Magazine hosted their second IP Corporate Strategy Summit in London. The attendees were a diverse group of IP professionals from various industries and backgrounds and almost all were in-house practitioners. A variety of IP management topics were addressed covering various issues from IP risk management to managing in-house IP teams and IP asset management best practices. As each topic was discussed, a handful of themes emerged. Those in the role of IP leadership feel the placement of their IP teams within an organization has a large impact on their success and the value they deliver. There is a strong demand for IP Managers to communicate the value of IP in a way that resonates with C-suite leadership, and the communication barrier isn’t always easy to navigate. And lastly, at the moment, there is a major shortage of talent to support IP departments.

It’s a matter of location

IP is a cross-business function that is too often not treated as such and where the IP department sits within an organisation makes a huge difference in terms of influence, budget allocation, and value contribution. When asked to consider what the IP department of the future looked like, panellists spent a good amount of time discussing where it was located. Currently, IP management teams tend to get lumped in with the legal team, which was generally seen as not necessarily ideal.  A couple of panellists discussed the success their IP teams have had as part of the Technology organisation. Not being part of the legal team was seen as an enabler to be more nimble and make decisions more quickly. From this perspective, IP managers need the opportunity to do things quickly but aren’t always given that luxury because of where they are located. A contrasting view was that sitting within the legal team allows the IP team to be seen as a relatively independent part of the business which aligns it with Legal’s role as “corporate guardian”.

It’s a matter of engagement and It’s a matter of communication

Overall, IP strategy, or rather how IP strategy aligns with or is a subset of, corporate strategy, is getting more attention and internal IP departments are seeing a growing demand from senior decision makers for well-defined IP strategies. How those strategies are communicated matters. Detailed reports, while informative, don’t always resonate with senior executives. The IP narrative needs to be succinct and clear. A senior IP strategist needs to be continuously looking at the organisation’s IP Strategy and how it is modified to support ever-changing company goals and market conditions, while somewhat distancing themselves from the day-to-day patent/design/trademark registration process and associated administrative procedures, giving them scope to communicate regularly to senior execs regarding the value the IP is bringing to the business.

It’s a matter of resources

At the moment, talent is a bit thin on the ground in the area of IP. Hiring the right people for an IP management team isn’t easy and there are not enough qualified patent attorneys, or IP strategy professionals to fill the current demand. This will lead to higher salaries for these roles and it will also push hiring managers to consider non-patent attorneys for IP-heavy positions. Engineers and people with highly technical backgrounds are a natural fit within IP departments and they are good ambassadors for engineering teams.

It’s a matter of perspective

Another topic that was covered at the event was the emergence of AI and other machine learning tools to remove the busy work from IP management. A handful of helpful IP tools were mentioned, but at the moment most are used as a means of enhancing the inventive process or providing competitive filing/transaction statistics with AI-cleansed data. The communication gap between IP strategists and the C-suite can’t be solved with the tools that are currently available. With the potential of future integrations across databases and platforms, visibility of IP will be more prominent and relevant to key decision makers. Communicating value will continue to be a challenge due to all the factors that go into understanding the value of a patent portfolio.

As IP strategy services providers, it was beneficial to listen to our clients and our target demographic discuss their current pain points and their perspectives on the future of their role. IP strategy is getting more attention and the management of intangible assets is having a more noticeable impact outside of the legal box. Specifically, the discussions around how to communicate IP value to senior management resonates with much of the work we are currently doing with our clients. We are seeing great results presenting IP data in a way that speaks to key decision makers. Unlike a financial forecast, articulating the value of an IP portfolio requires a different set of skills and perspective.

Pictures from the event can be found here