IP Portfolio Managers need to shift from IP-centric to business-centric strategies

As the planning and budgeting for 2018 and beyond begins to unfold, Intellectual Property (IP) managers can reflect on the highs and lows of the past year and more importantly, prepare for a successful year ahead.  Instead of following the same IP plan year after year, IP managers should focus their strategy on aligning their IP with their business, including developing a more concise IP plan, and switch to using smarter and modern analytics.

Below are three recommendations that IP portfolio managers should consider implementing to help them devise a high-impact IP and business strategy.

IP is the business

The most important thing IP portfolio managers can do is to ensure alignment of their IP assets with their company’s overall business strategy. An ongoing problem within the IP industry is that very few corporate IP departments 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 must 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 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?

“The purpose of IP Strategy is generally not an end into and of itself but rather for advancing the wider business goals,” said Michael LoCascio, Senior Manager; Strategic Market Intelligence & IP Strategy at BASF, a global chemical company. “However, businesses generally confuse the plan with strategy. In actuality to be effective, the strategic plan and the associated IP information gathering, analysis, and decision making processes are deeply intertwined. One of the keys is to have highly functioning IP Committees comprising all stakeholders including Strategy, Legal counsel, R&D, and product managers or other members of the operating business. The Committee updates foreign filing strategy per technology/product group, makes patent filing decisions, tracks competitive IP, and periodically optimizes the portfolio to maximize strength at minimum cost.”

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.”

Develop a disciplined plan

IP organizations are constantly evolving in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment and therefore must develop a disciplined plan to remain competitive.   Outlined below are a few proven steps to develop such a 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 counsels, 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.

Another successful company, 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 a plan like these examples 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 and require re-visiting the plan and priorities every year.

The smarter I work, the luckier I get

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 assembled and delivered in an easily consumed format, at the right time, actionable intelligence will have a direct impact on your IP organization and your 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 counsels 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. Your competitors will!


IP managers must:

  1. Start with the end in mind: IP is the business!
  2. Build a plan, measure and manage and continuous improvement.
  3. Create an environment where your IP and business execs have access to timely actionable intelligence to support their decisions and strategies.

Following these three recommendations will set IP portfolio managers and their teams up for further success.


Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com.

Join the Discussion

3 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Gene]
    January 30, 2018 01:37 pm

    the very best law firms use a management theory that is one developmental stage beyond archaic—feudalistic. this was common in most u.s. businesses in the early 1800’s.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 29, 2018 10:42 am


    I will make sure the author sees your comment and pitch the idea of another article per your recommendation. Cheers.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    January 29, 2018 07:37 am

    Aside from universal truths*** that apply no matter what the business subsection, I was struck by the statement of:

    An ongoing problem within the IP industry is that very few corporate IP departments truly understand their company’s objectives and business model.

    Is this a problem of the IP department, of the company itself (mayhap having objectives and business models that are not clear or understood by anyone), or perhaps a bit of both?

    Having worn the other management hats, I can attest that corporate governance – in general – raises all types of problems that may show merely as symptoms in the non-alignment of IP managerial rewards and any such more global business strategies.

    Non-alignment has never been the sole province of IP.

    That said, I found the aspect of the article focusing on IP Law firms themselves as a business fascinating, but would have made the distinction of such an animal much more sharply from those whom such firms provide services to.

    Perhaps an article unto itself for that topic would be beneficial. I will say that having come to law after industry, the management model that I most often see in law is archaic (at best). Law firms – even IP law firms – generally do not have the most innovative management structures, and the partnership model, complicated by ethics and ownership rules, remains burdened with such things as “the billable hour.”

    *** One universal truth is the fallacy that ANY advice should be followed by all in order to “set yourself apart.” If everyone jumps on the same bandwagon (with new tools or new metrics, for example), then everyone remains on the same vehicle. There remains critical thinking to be done – as with any tool – to determine an optimum mix/message/medium and other aspects of the traditional business strategies.

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