Top 10 Ideas for Restarting an IP Program

By Bill Meade

  1. Isolate your patent business model. The big question here is how will patents pay for themselves? By protecting markets from competitors? By being licensed? By reducing the rate of patent litigation? The best place to start an IP program is with a solid foundation on profitability. Then, once you’ve decided what the IP business model is, measure it. Gilb’s Law of Quantification is that there is always a way to measure that is better to not measuring at all. Supertrue for the area of IP. Measure and ye shall receive.
  2. Tell inventors the “what.” If you write down the seven areas where you want inventions, and make these areas into a cover sheet on your invention disclosure, you will increase the rate of strategic inventing. Increase from whatever it is now, to over 90%. Until inventors get calibrated, filling out invention disclosure forms is an uncertain, risky, stab in the dark. Tell inventors what you need, and you drain the uncertainty, risk, and much of the career threat from sharing ideas.
  3. Tell inventors the “why.”If you can proactively communicate the criteria by which invention disclosures are evaluated, you will increase your rate and quality of inventing dramatically. I think the best way to do this is to pick four scales that range from 1 (low) to 10 (high), have a legal person rate each disclosure on these scales, and have a technical person do the same. You’ll learn a lot as the two raters talk about the differences in their scores and begin to converge. Information is contained in contrasts such as these:
    • Scale 1: Bringing in new business
    • Scale 2: Required investment
    • Scale 3: Competitive pain caused
    • Scale 4: Current business protected

    This process forces your legal and business people to operationalize their currently implicit theories—for example, “Above 30 is a default file patent decision”. Then you can objectively communicate these scores with inventors to calibrate them to the company’s standards. Numerical clarity simultaneously increases the rate and quality of inventing. Quality comes up rapidly, so rapidly that the IP department budgets become immediately overtaxed with potential patent ideas that attorneys canʼt bear not to file on.

  4. Make a contract between IP and Senior Management.The biggest sin of omission in starting an IP program is not having an activity-based budget contract between management and the legal department. It can seem like an approach of “Break it. We’ll fix it as we go” is a good enough start—especially before you have shown that you can improve either quality or quantity of IP.It’s not true.

    Break-fix does not work for legal departments. Legal is not a BUSINESS function. Legal is a dignified profession. When corporate lawyers need more money, they won’t demand it. Every legal department I’ve worked with has been a wall flower about money—denial ain’t just a River in Egypt. Lawyers won’t pound the table (like psychotic marketing VPs) and demand funding. So without a contract you are likely to end up killing your IP program with success as the legal department chokes on increased activity and improved quality.

    If you have a contract between the IP people and Senior Management, the IP people wonʼt drown in the great disclosures theyʼve always wished to see. And management, for the first time, will have to specify (cap) the appropriate activity level for IP in the company.

  5. Establish a translation layer.I have a Ph.D. in marketing with minors in electrical engineering, evolutionary ecology, econometrics, and statistics. When I arrived at HP I was a in marketing, managing printer products. Very soon I was beamed across the group into managing the business side of a million dollar a month burn rate, patent litigation event between HP and Xerox. My background in BOTH hard science and soft science sides was the reason for this assignment. Hard science plus soft science training prepared me to be able to translate between all the stakeholder groups in intellectual property.Being able to translate between engineer and marketeer, engineer and attorney, between attorney and VP of Technology, and between outside counsel and inside counsel, and most importantly for that litigation event, between the PR people, business people, and patent attorneys, we were able to shut down the HP/Xerox litigation at minimum cost. The IP management game is won by simplifying and accelerating communication. Hire a translation layer person, someone who delights at being stuck in the middle of people who can’t, don’t, or won’t communicate.
  6. Build the rebel alliance.Unrecognized in every great technical company is an incipient alliance of people who want to help intellectual property management happen. IP rebel alliance members are sometimes are visible as patent coordinators in business groups, but the vast majority of potential rebel alliance members are below the waterline like an iceberg. By tapping the rebel alliance, I was able to keep IP strategies moving while remaining flat to the wall—not leaving a cost profile that a computer or finance person could see.For example, I built a world wide automatic payment system for IP payments. But, by tapping the rebel alliance, I built this system without head count, budget, or even an accounting code. No company knows what it should be spending on IP. So the less you have to spend, the more successful you can be. The way to spend less on IP than anyone for a given level of success is to build the rebel alliance.
  7. Democratize inventing.If you haven not engineered an ‘inventing democracy,’ you don’t have it. Being content with inventions that find you, means you have biased and filtered access to the ideas created in your organization. A lot of things make inventing undemocratic: habit, cultural assumptions, ignorance, and inertia. My personal favorite ‘wrong’ cultural assumption is that engineers in engineering groups CAN be inventors while engineers in sales groups CAN NOT be inventors – even if the engineer came from an engineering group and used to be an inventor.You need to build business processes between the legal department and the inventors. Between the legal department and the business people. And probably between legal, finance, business, and inventors if you have invention incentive program. Democratization of invention is engineered in over time as you feel your way iteratively discovering breakthrough processes. If you design in open-ness, you’ll maximize the quality and income of your IP system.
  8. Be enthusiastic.The root words of “enthusiasm” are “en” which means “in” and “theos” which means god. Enthusiasm is the god within. And enthusiasm is responsible for all the results I’ve achieved in IP management. This was surprising to my boss; he was a twenty-five year managing counsel for IP who once said, “The policies have been on the books for seven years. The doors of the legal department have always been open. Why is everything happening now? … I’m surprised at how much more happens when enthusiasm is behind the process pushing.”Enthusiasm is not taught in law school. So, enthusiasm is crucial complementary skill to your legal department. Make sure whoever you hire is famous for enthusiasm. For example, while I was running an invention workshop for the first time at a client. During the presentation the IP attorney (now GC for IP) present looked at me and blurted out “This is like an intellectual property revival meeting!” Yes, exactly!!!
  9. Strip your disclosure.Invention disclosures are complex forms created by patent attorneys to pass muster with other patent attorneys. The requirements to document an invention are however, very few. Why complex forms for simple inventions? Because attorneys are shifting the work they are supposed to do, on to inventors. If you want more and better disclosures from the inventors, simplify. Take the legal department’s work, off the backs of your inventors. If the legal department needs more people to process invention disclosures, so be it.Starting up an intellectual property program is about profit, not cost. Groundrule #1 is that nobody in the system gets to optimize their own costs at the expense of other people in the system. Simplify the disclosure, put a targeting cover sheet on it, you’ll be delighted with how the results come in good and then continue to get better every month.
  10. Close the open loops.Intellectual property is managed open loop. Invention incentives if companies have policies, are always a disaster as far as inventors are concerned. Companies are either months (or years) behind in payments, or the payments come so far after invention (4 years if the patent has to issue before the inventor receives payment) that the “incentives” are useless for making inventors feel like they are part of a team. Basic strategies like how IP pays for itself, are not written, reviewed, measured, or routinely revised.But donʼt feel bad about IP being open loop. This is what an ground floor opportunity looks like!! Intellectual property infrastructure and culture are built up over-time. Reigniting an IP program is a lot of fun because reigniting IP programs helps companies protect and re-monetize themselves, gets employees working together in new ways, and makes jobs more meaningful for people when they see that their work is valuable, patentable, and part of the company’s competitive advantage going forward.

[This post originally appeared at Open Forum.]

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