IP processes and process development

By Donal O’Connell

Overview of IP Processes  & IP Process  Development

Intellectual Property (IP) rights are valuable assets for any business, possibly among the most important that it possesses.  It is therefore imperative that whatever IP processes are in use are fit for purpose, and add some value to those using these processes.

Whatever IP data management system and IP tools are in use should properly underpin these processes, and the processes, systems and associated data all need to be synchronized.

What is a process?

A process is an interrelated set of activities designed to transform inputs into outputs, which should accomplish your pre-defined business objectives. Processes produce an output of value to the customer, they very often span across organizational and functional boundaries and they exist whether you choose to document them or not. Examples of IP processes are the patent creation process, the IP portfolio management process, the IP risk mitigation process, the IP exploitation process and the IP maintenance process to name but a few.

The memory of your organization

A process can be seen as an agreement to do certain things in a certain way and the larger your organization, the greater the need for agreements on ways of working. Processes are the memory of your organization, and without them a lot of effort can be wasted by starting every procedure and process from scratch each time and possibly repeating the same mistakes.

First class IP processes facilitate good communication between the information originator and the information receiver, because they help to set and manage expectations and the consistency of the information being given.

IP processes must never be allowed to become static, because they are there to serve the organization and not vice versa. Ways and means to take identified improvements systematically into use should exist within your organization and well-established processes can be used as a tool to accomplish this aim. Your IP processes define what and how tasks are done and by whom, to ensure repeatability. This is especially important as IP departments collaborate more and more with external IP Agents, IP intermediaries and IP service providers, sometimes off-shore. They also enable you to set performance criteria and measurement, which can be utilized when identifying the source or root-cause of any problems or excessive variation.

IP processes perform many useful functions

IP processes perform many useful functions within an organization. They act as agreements and become part of the organization’s memory, ultimately ensuring the facilitation of good communication. Processes can be an implementation tool, enabling improvements to take place and ensuring repeatability. The IP processes you put in place can also support a learning and developing organization.

Processes cut across functional boundaries

If your company and/or IP department is organized and operating in such a manner that it has very strong functional dimensions, there is a danger that the focus will be centered on internal functions to improve their function performance and not on the overall performance of the company or IP department. This may lead to interfaces or check points being established, based on functional borders and requiring extra hand-offs and approvals. This in turn can limit your ability to manage the whole value chain and lead to sub-optimization of the overall company.

A company or IP department with a strong process focus will almost certainly have to be concentrated on business targets and the customer. It will also be one with good understanding of how IP adds value to the business.

Your functions provide the competencies and resources that are utilized in your processes whereas your interfaces and check points are based on process borders, and you should find that you have a more customer focused and responsive organization. This should provide greater understanding and enable management of the whole value network. It enables end-to-end optimization and facilitates the measuring of process performance.

Some general principles

There are some general principles to consider when conducting IP process development work …

  • Strategy-driven process development work means creating IP processes that enable effective implementation of your IP strategy.
  • You need to select the right organizational structures and operating models to support your processes.
  • An proper detailed understanding of the inputs and outputs of the IP  process(es) is required.
  • Clarification of the expectations for the IP process performance and agreement on the rationale for conducting IP process development in the first place is most important.
  • Process development aims for compatible and optimized IP processes and it should enable a flexible and agile mode of operation within your company and IP department.
  • It should define quality requirements for both the output and the performance of the IP process, and then map those quality requirements on activity levels to related work products and ensure short feedback loops, fast responses and low corrective action costs.
  • Continuous IP process development should be based on measurements and your targets should be derived from your business goals. Measures should be linked to both effectiveness and efficiency and the focus needs to be on end-to-end performance, while avoiding any sub-optimization.
  • Your incentives within the IP department should also be linked to IP process metrics.
  • Systems and tools in use within your company and IP department should ideally support your processes, and not vice versa.

Process management is one of the key issues in any organization and you should select skilled, clever and experienced persons, who also have sociable tendencies, to help conduct this exercise and document your mode of operation and key processes.

Challenges with doing IP process development

Developing and implementing IP process improvements is not always an easy task and it is critical, before starting process definition work, that you identify all of the relevant stakeholders and ensure you get them involved in this work as early as possible. Harmonization of the various sub-processes may take time because when you try to establish a new and different way of working, nobody is willing to change his or her own particular way of working but is usually OK for other people to change. It is also important, but sometimes difficult, to get commitment from everyone involved towards the new IP processes and it needs strong support from Senior Management within the company to ensure successful deployment.

Ground rules for IP process development

Process definition should be done top-down, to keep all process levels  linked to the vision, mission and strategy of the company. Start by firstly defining the currently used IP process(es), and only after that then seek for improvement areas and plan the target state for the process(es).

Note that processes does not follow the organization structure. A process goes across functions and organizations, and the functions provide the people and competences for processes. Involve key people and process users in the process definition to create the commitment

Define the scope as a first step – what do you want?

Define the purpose of the IP process(es). Identify the customer(s) of the process(es), and their expectations. Identify interfacing processes – what are the other processes inside or outside of the company that exchange inputs and outputs with this process?  An inventor reward and recognition process for example should have some interface perhaps to HR and Finance. Identify the necessary and available inputs for the process as well as the outputs that are required by the customers of the process. Identify the owner of the process – who is responsible for the  process and its performance.

Create the process model

Build the process hierarchy, dividing the top level IP process(es) to sub-processes that are required to transform the inputs into outputs. For each sub-process, define the activities that are required to  transform the inputs into outputs. If an activity is not clear enough, break it down to smaller activities or tasks.

Create the flow of the activities, arranging the activities to a logical sequence and draw links between activities. All outputs should be consumed by another process as if an output has no use, it is not needed. All activities of one process are linked together with their inputs or outputs.

If an activity has no links, it does not belong to this IP process. Identify roles that are responsible for conducting the activities and try to ensure that only one role is responsible for one activity. Document the IP process model using the process documentation  method that is used in the company.

Define measures or metrics for the IP process

Metrics are a set of parameters or ways of quantitative and periodic assessment of a process that is to be measured, along with the procedures on how to conduct such measurement, plus the procedures for interpretation of the results if necessary.

Some suggested IP process performance measures could be:

  • Cycle time: process execution time from triggering event to the final output
  • Throughput: number of output units in a period of time
  • Efficiency: cost of execution per output unit
  • Process and product quality (including data quality): number of process disruptions or product defects per output unit

Metrics are important as they ultimately act as a means to measure the success of your business.  Collectively, they provide a check list through which you can ensure the maintenance or continuity of a successful practice or a means to highlight the reasons behind a specific failure and consequently permit one to alter a practice in order to improve performance.

Collecting the right information and applying it quickly to improve performance is the true value of any metric, no matter what part of the IP processes it is applied to.  Make sure the metrics being used to measure the quality and quantity of your work provide an accurate reflection of how you and your team are doing.

Execution is key

Implementing a new IP process requires a very careful change management in order to get all parties aware and committed  to the change. Large implementation projects benefit from piloting the process first in a limited scope. Provide process localization support and guidance for tailoring the process for local use. Keep process documentation and other instructions easily available for process users. Organize sufficient training and support for process users. Managers of the users of the process users need to take care of users’ process knowledge and competence.

Establish continuous improvement practice. It is imperative that one measure process performance, analyzing the process performance and determining root causes for deviations. Plan, implement and test solutions and control the process execution.

Final thoughts

In response to competitive pressures and ever-changing conditions, many IP departments are fundamentally rethinking the way they do business.  It is most important to be able to clearly link your IP department’s process(es) and organizational services to your business goals and objectives. As IP departments strive to keep up with ever-changing customer demands and market needs, there is a growing demand for modeling and analysis of the IP departments core process(es), in order to capture the strategic relationships within the IP department itself and with external partners and players as well, so as to identify areas for improvement.

An IP process description is basically a formal representation of the structure, activities, information flow, resources, behaviors, goals, and constraints of your IP department.  This formal modeling of the IP department should facilitate the creation of enhanced understanding of the core activities, as well as the relations that extend across the boundaries of the department.  Flow charts are easy-to-understand diagrams showing how steps in a process fit together and this makes them useful tools for communicating on how IP processes work and for clearly documenting how a particular task is done.  Furthermore, the act of mapping a process out, in flow chart format, helps you clarify your understanding of the IP process and assists you in identifying aspects of the process that can be improved.  A flow chart can therefore be used to define and analyze processes, build a step-by-step picture of the process for analysis, aid discussion and communication and identify areas for improvement.


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