In honor of World IP Day, ClearViewIP thought it was timely to share our thoughts on celebrating our 10-year anniversary.
10 Years – A Time to Reflect
Last month I had the opportunity to share homemade cake shaped as the number 10 and toast fizz with the team at ClearViewIP celebrating our ten-year anniversary. Looking around the room at the faces of the directors who have helped build and shape our business and the team of highly-skilled and talented individuals we have collected and nurtured along the way, it’s easy to be proud and optimistic about the future. It’s exciting to see how so much has changed over the past decade and to acknowledge how proactive and reactive this team has been in helping shape the business, and to an extent, the larger IP and innovation services industry.
Our company looked very different ten years ago. Not just in size, but in the services we offered and the clients we served. I couldn’t be more grateful for the first client who hired us, and to those who work with us on a continuous basis, many who have been with us for well over half of our existence. For the people who make up this business and keep us moving forward, we are forging a path we should all be proud of. This is a moment to celebrate and a chance to look back on the achievements that helped us get here.
Why we Started ClearViewIP
I had no idea what to expect when Kathryn Rickard and I set out to start ClearViewIP. What I knew, was that we had faced some really interesting challenges regarding the intellectual assets of the company we were previously with and in all cases it came down to making an informed business decision based on thorough research. There were a lot of lessons learned and I felt I couldn’t be the only senior executive in this position. How could I turn that knowledge into a valuable service?
Around this same time, there was a lot happening in the US with patents, we had experienced this through incoming license requests around our NASDAQ IPO and I felt there was an opportunity to help UK technology businesses use IP strategically the way US-based companies were doing. The economic value of technology patents was being under-exploited. The motivation was to help tech-savvy UK companies be more progressive with IP.
From the beginning, there was a bit of an education hurdle to overcome. Our target customer base needed to buy into the importance of IP. For example, in 2007 Venture Capitalists didn’t look at IP assets as a measure of a company’s value, or as an area of risk, which is much different than today. In the UK, investment in intangible assets rose by nearly 38% between 2011 and 2014 and now we see an increased interest from VCs eager to understand IP issues, including IP risk analysis, alignment of the IP portfolio to the growth story and in some cases carry out IP due diligence in some depth. This is enabling them to make more informed investments, and better nurture their portfolio companies through collaborating with boutiques like ClearViewIP across their portfolio. In 2007, money was tight for IP spending, largely because companies did not have a separate IP budget or operating plan, in fact, they rarely had an individual responsible for IP matters. We were taking a risk because it wasn’t clear the market for our services existed, but a handful of things were happening all at once that made the timing feel right.
The Emerging IP Strategy Community
To put everything in perspective, the emergence of IP as a key component of a business’ strategy started to take shape in the early 90’s, but arguably really gained momentum when David Kline and Kevin Rivet published Rembrandts in the Attic in 2000. This launched the “IP Revolution” and led to the emergence of IP-specific tools and services. There was a growing need to harness and make sense of the massive amount of information being generated in all the various global patent offices. At the same time, there was a significant ramp up in litigation activity in the US with substantial damages being awarded in quite a few instances.
In 2008, a year after we incorporated, IAM magazine launched the first IP Business Congress. In 2009, IAM also began publishing their list of the top 250 IP strategy professionals in the world (today the list includes 300 people). Around this same time, the professional role of Chief Intellectual Property Officers (CIPO) began to emerge but wasn’t clearly defined.
Around this time, the mobile patent wars really shined a bright light on the value of IP as litigation hit the headlines, and major corporate failings (Nortel, Motorola, Kodak) coupled with a rise of capital flows into Non-Practising Entities (Intellectual Ventures, WiLAN, Conversant) led to IP, more specifically patents, being considered as an asset class in their own right. Patent aggregators, litigation funders, brokers, licensing outfits and consultancies like ours all had an opportunity to capitalize and grow during this “perfect storm” and indeed we did.
Building a Brand While Helping Shape an Industry
As the industry was developing, we felt it was important to be actively involved in shaping the IP strategy services industry. When IAM launched their first IPBC Global Conference in 2008 and started their IAM strategy 300 list, there was an opportunity to create some structure and definition around the role of CIPO and other IP-related roles as well as develop the new IP talent for the future through education and development of best practices. In 2010, together with a few like-minded IP strategy practitioners, we created the International Intellectual Property Strategy Association (INTPSA) with several hundred members across more than 30 countries. This helped develop a deep network of IP strategy professionals and created an ongoing dialogue on the role and value IP plays within industries. Today this remains active as a LinkedIn group of over 800 members.
We weren’t the only company who saw an opportunity here and we’ve had our fair share of competition, which in our minds validated the market, but also gave us a number of companies to collaborate with as our business developed. One of the current trends we’re noticing is the acquisition of IP service providers by some larger industry players (BlackstoneIP, Cantor Fitzgerald), private equity activity (Novagraaf, TechInsights, Clarivate) and also significant consolidation in the IP tools space (Questel, CPA Global), which shows a clear acknowledgment of the value of IP services and the maturity of the industry. Intangible assets and the professional services that help manage them are no longer jockeying for position, they are acknowledged as valuable and necessary.
Prepared and Ready When the Timing was Right
Early on, we were fortunate to land both big corporates and prestigious academic institutions as clients and our growth was fuelled by referrals from existing clients. We have had the opportunity to work with some of the top universities in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia helping them commercialize their innovations and negotiate highly favorable licensing deals, spinout companies and manage existing license agreements. Each client presents different challenges and it is interesting to look at IP from each of their perspectives. With every client interaction, we have developed new skills and areas of expertise. For example, our IP Risk Mitigation services emerged after helping TomTom develop a defensive strategy to support ongoing expansion in the US market.
In the midst of the “mobile patent wars”, landing our first large telecoms client was a major milestone for us as it cemented ClearViewIP’s reputation as a leading service provider and in particular drove our activity in the IP Transactions business. Contrasting starkly with the client facing business building activity, was another major milestone for ClearViewIP, and that was hiring our first employee! When we started, the founders and directors agreed to work for free for a year investing sweat equity in the business and to be frank, we weren’t even sure the services would work. Hiring our first employee was a real wake up call and meant what we had started, had become a real business with responsibilities as well as dreams.
All along, ClearViewIP has been successfully growing. Year over year, we’ve increased our revenue while building our team and brand, contrasting with some of our competitors, we’ve done this without reliance on any external capital. As strategy advisors, and given the technical backgrounds of our staff, it’s pretty predictable we’d be highly methodical and strategic in growing our business. Our services continue to evolve to meet the unique demands of our clients. We’ve always maintained that our services are bespoke, and that’s because they need to be. We learn from each project and that spills over into how we improve on the delivery of other projects, but no two client engagements are the same.
What is the Future of IP Strategy?
Looking forward, I am convinced the future is bright for our industry and our company. The world is changing. The innovation culture we believed in is taking shape. Despite the concerns of Brexit, we are seeing major multinationals like Google, Snapchat, Facebook, Apple, GSK and others increasing their investment in growing the UK technology environment. Berlin is also emerging as a highly innovative technology hub and a lot of the challenges we saw the London market struggle with, Berlin is now facing so the timing is right. Start-ups used to not care too much about their IP, but recently that is changing and the fastest growing smartest companies (like Swiftkey) are putting the IP agenda at the heart of their activities. On the international stage, we are seeing a strong push from governments and policy makers to ensure IP Strategy and the treatment of intangible assets become more transparent, uniform and compliant (e.g. the OECD’s BEPs initiative) and that developing economies embrace best practice in evolving their economies to the new IP-rich world (EIB Balkans, China). With our UK location at the heart of Europe, our international experience, and 10-year track record, we are uniquely positioned to capitalize on helping our clients build more value from their IP activities and improve their competitive advantage with our services.