Carlo Cotrone is Chief IP Counsel at Techtronic Industries North America (TTI), a world leader in cordless technology spanning power tools, outdoor power equipment, and floor care appliances. He also is Adjunct Professor of Law at University of Houston Law Center, and a frequent speaker and author on topics such as IP strategy and asset management, legal ethics, collaboration and innovation strategies for law firms and corporate legal departments, and professional development. Previously, Carlo served as Senior IP Counsel at General Electric and energy technology company Baker Hughes, and practiced law at firms on the East Coast and in the Midwest, most recently as a partner. He is the inventor of two United States patents directed to digital sheet music technology.
As discussed in Part I of this series, the process of implementing IP management software (IPMS) poses many complexities and dangers. To ensure as successful an IPMS implementation as possible, companies and law firms should apply best practices early on. The earlier they begin taking these steps, and the more deeply they dig into the issues, the greater their chances of avoiding the most common implementation pitfalls.
Imagine that your family has decided to build a new home. You’ve got the vision, but you need to call in the pros—a well-established, highly expert homebuilder with a cadre of architects, designers, contractors, and tradespeople. You’re relying upon the builder’s expertise to thoughtfully scope the project and prepare you for what lies ahead. This includes (a) helping you understand what financial and other commitments will be required of you; (b) educating you on challenges you’ll face along the way; and (c) highlighting available offerings that align with your vision….. Now imagine that your company or law firm has decided to implement intellectual property management software (IPMS) with a vendor. In a worst-case implementation scenario, you may feel like you’re reliving the above homebuilding saga. Indeed, IP teams often embark on the IPMS journey with great optimism. Once in the thick of implementation, however, they may experience a turbulent journey.
CEOs, general counsels, and other senior leaders in a corporation often take a hands-off approach to IP strategy and execution, heavily delegating these functions to in-house IP counsel and related team members. This isn’t surprising given the esoteric nature of many IP matters and the extraordinary demands on senior leaders coming from all corners. The trust placed in corporate IP departments may be substantial, carrying with it largely unfettered discretion to set the IP agenda. Unfortunately, those outside the IP field may feel ill-equipped to verify that such trust is well placed. The worst-case result may be misaligned IP and business strategies, enormous spend, and missed opportunities.
In the IP field, and countless others, online or virtual meetings have become ingrained in professional life, an enabler of remote working in the age of COVID-19 and beyond. Conference platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, Slack, and BlueJeans are now essential tools for collaboration within and between enterprises. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tech enthusiast, straggler, or somewhere in the middle. You’ve had to adopt the technology or be left behind. Although united as users, we don’t uniformly leverage the functionality available on conference platforms. Notably, some of us diverge in our use, or non-use, of webcams during online meetings.
As of December 2020, LinkedIn, Microsoft’s social networking service for professionals, has over 722 million total members in 200 countries and regions worldwide. Its growth seems unstoppable: the service continues to attract legions of newcomers to the workforce and more seasoned late adopters. Meanwhile, existing members are expanding their engagement, leveraging LinkedIn in new ways they hope will prove fruitful. Intellectual property professionals—defined broadly here as persons or entities whose professional work involves or relates to IP or IP practitioners—abound as members on LinkedIn. Law firm, corporate, and government attorneys and their colleagues. IP and legal service providers of all kinds, from litigation and prosecution support to software and IP monetization. Judges and law school professors. Legal associations, recruiters, and producers of IP conferences. The list goes on. Not surprisingly, corporate IP attorneys like myself are constantly typecast as LinkedIn buyers, viewed as a source of coveted business in a highly competitive field. For me, LinkedIn has become the single most active forum where sellers attempt to pitch me services. This has been both a blessing and a curse, an opportunity to be impressed—or not.
Despite their best efforts, patent practitioners may reach an impasse during negotiations with patent examiners at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). If an applicant still desires patent protection, it can authorize the filing of a notice of appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and an associated appeal brief. Thus begins an ex parte appeals process in which a panel of at least three administrative patent judges (APJs) considers patentability of the rejected claims. Over the years, I’ve observed some patent attorneys and agents approach ex parte appeals as essentially a document assembly exercise: arguments from past Office action responses are pasted into a template and then submitted to the PTAB. In my view, such an approach represents a missed opportunity to present the strongest possible case for patentability. In a worst-case scenario, it may even prevent a client from securing the patent protection it deserves. To maximize clients’ chances of success, practitioners instead should approach appeals with the mindset of a strategist and advocate.
During this turbulent era in the history of the U.S. patent system, many enterprises have pursued new models for IP strategy and execution. Others have taken a wait-and-see, business-as-usual tack. Change certainly is no stranger to patent systems around the world. Yet, some principles remain timeless and unassailable no matter how winds may shift. For example, we all can agree that patent filing and maintenance decisions should be sound, protecting the right technologies in the right places for the right reasons. Technology companies face patent-related decision points around seemingly every corner. The consequences of suboptimal decision-making are troubling, including wasteful expenditures, missed strategic opportunities, and diminished shareholder value. Therefore, enterprises should not hesitate to continually reflect on the quality of their patent filing and maintenance decisions, and on the framework that supports them. Cognitive bias—defined as “the collection of faulty ways of thinking … hardwired into the human brain”—can hijack patent decision processes just as it does every other area of human endeavor. As such, it can lead to suboptimal outcomes despite IP stakeholders’ sincere, dedicated participation.
Upon receipt of the fateful “love” letter from its fictitious IP client, the fictitious law firm was speechless—momentarily. Feeling aggrieved and misunderstood, and yet hopeful that their relationship could be saved with an added measure of TLC (top-tier legal counseling), the firm summoned up the courage to prepare this reply letter. In an act of contrition (or maybe vindication?), the firm has taken the bold step of publishing it on IPWatchdog. Note to commenters habitually fed up with clients large and small: This one’s for you.