Vincent Brault, Senior Vice President of Product and Innovation at Anaqua, highlights the importance of better aligning IP with business strategy for competitive advantage and examines ways to achieve such alignment.
There’s a transformation going on in business. Globalization, faster innovation, and a rapidly changing competitive landscape are all putting pressure on businesses. In such fast-evolving markets, senior executives are increasingly recognizing the strategic role IP plays throughout the business lifecycle. As a result, businesses expect more from their IP organizations and want to maximize the value of their IP to drive and harness innovation, mitigate risk, achieve exclusive positioning, and gain a competitive advantage. To meet these challenges and stay ahead of the market, organizations and their IP managers need the right strategies and tools to enable them to power innovation, allow Freedom to Operate, achieve exclusive positioning, and secure product and brand protection. Below are five key steps to transforming IP into business success.
The first step is to understand your IP portfolio. This is a basic requirement for any successful Portfolio Manager. IP teams should perform regular internal reviews to identify key IP opportunities and rights based on legal, technical, financial and also business factors: products and markets, competitive landscape, emerging technologies, etc. Secondly, it is essential to have a strong foundation of complete and accurate data. IP teams need to promote and foster data integrity, which means maintaining IP data so that it is a whole or complete structure. For any business, proper data is crucial for making well-informed decisions. As one IP leader best put it, “I find I’m in decision-making overdrive. I make a thousand decisions every month and am flying blind. I just don’t have the right data to make the right decisions.”
Organizations with a successful track record of managing IP portfolios monitor the ever-changing business and IP landscape to understand trends, changes, and emerging players. The three main landscapes include:
- Technology assessment
- Whitespace analysis
- Competitor monitoring and infringement awareness Conducting these landscapes at regular intervals can benefit IP owners in a number of ways. For example, IP landscaping helps IP teams:
- Better understand IP for products and technologies important to the organization’s present and future.
- Identify key technology players and their relative IP strengths, including key inventors in a given space.
- Discover areas for whitespace inquiry, Freedom to Operate (FTO)/patentability.
- Understand the organization’s competitors, upstream and downstream partners, and potential acquisition/ acquirer targets.
- Track the evolution of a landscape relative to active IP development and/or R&D.
- Deliver market and competitive intelligence to internal business clients, as well as partners and suppliers. To achieve these benefits, IP teams traditionally leverage external patent search and analytics consultants for project based landscaping, and patent search and analytics databases when conducting the work internally. Both of these solutions will deliver value based on a business’ needs, resources, internal skills, and bandwidth. More recently, IP organizations are beginning to leverage new capabilities for landscaping, such as:
- Dynamic landscaping, which delivers landscape results in a tech-enabled IP platform for easy reviewal and re-pull of updated results.
- High-end IP Management (IPM) software that now provides the ability to combine internal (including private data) and external data within a single environment. The main benefit is having access to a full 360 view of internal and third-party assets. Through these tools, IP teams can easily track an organization’s level of innovation, evaluate the strength of their portfolio, monitor the competitive landscape, and identify opportunities to leverage their IP to transform the business.
Business strategy: Develop a disciplined plan
While it is becoming critically important for internal IP teams to help ensure alignment of IP assets with their organization’s broader business strategy, an ongoing problem within the IP industry is that very few corporate IP departments truly understand their company’s strategy and business objectives to define how IP will contribute to the business’ success. Shifting from an IP-centric to a business-centric strategy will enable IP teams to contribute more directly to their organization’s success. In organizations with multiple divisions, products, and markets, it is important 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, and level of innovation will dictate the ideal IP strategy. IP teams must engage with their internal business clients to fully understand their requirements and determine what is it the team should do in order to meet those needs. For example, are they looking to drive innovation and/or ensure freedom to operate? Do they want to block a competitor? Or should they be driving licensing revenue? A critical success factor for IP managers is their ability to communicate with their business clients in the workforce. The most effective IP teams spend time with their business counterparts to educate, but more significantly, to listen and understand the challenges and obstacles faced by the business. They are also aligned on business objectives and will develop a disciplined plan to ensure successful implementation. Outlined below are a few proven steps to develop such a plan:
Execution and collaboration
With a strategic and clear plan in place, the IP team is almost ready to begin implementation; however, to move to successful execution, it is essential that they have the right IPM technology solutions and services available – and that these (and the chosen vendor) also reflect and can support their business goals. A strong IPM technology infrastructure should help organizations unify collaboration, workflow, documents, data, and analytics in a single platform. It should provide IP teams with tools necessary for streamlining the entire IP management lifecycle with capabilities such as innovation creation and disclosure, patent drafting and filing, trademark filing, portfolio management insight and more. IPM technology is also the framework that supports collaboration and helps organizations align their IP assets with their overall business strategy. Organizations should initiate and increase collaboration by hosting (in person or virtual) committee meetings, and commissioning surveys and questionnaires to collect input and knowledge from across the business. By fostering a collaborative environment, organizations will be able to effectively bring team players together to discuss all necessary data points that will help further the business in making smart, data-based decisions. Additionally, a successful IPM vendor is one that values and fosters a collaborative and client-focused environment. This includes partnering with clients in a structured manner, such as client committees, to define the vendor’s product roadmap and continuously enhance technology solutions that will drive client value.
Measure/manage KPI, ROI, continuous improvement
In order to determine if plans are effective, IP teams need to understand how they themselves are performing. To do this, they must create a set of KPIs – derived from the overall IP strategy and objectives – for measuring productivity of both the in-house team and their outside counsel (OC). Many Anaqua clients measure internal client satisfaction, team productivity, spend management, innovation, quality of IP assets, and most importantly their ability to support the business in terms of innovation, risk mitigation, Freedom to Operate, and brand protection. Corporate IP departments can also compare current OCs’ performance and potential new providers using publicly available data to make informed decisions on how to allocate work to third-party organizations. Similarly, law firms can benchmark themselves against other law firms, and they can also see how their clients are measuring them. It is important to remember that an impactful plan is never a ‘one and done’ process. It takes dedication and “continuous improvement.” This is a key element in the IP department’s DNA. A disciplined IP team remembers that the competitive landscape, best practices, IP tools, and technology evolve constantly, and this requires them to re-visit the plan and priorities at least once a year. Together, through this collaboration, determination and discipline, organizations, IP teams, and IPM vendors can help transform IP into success for their businesses and for the industry