The Future Lies in Managing IP as a Business Asset

Two weeks ago, Intellectual Asset Management (IAM) software vendor Anaqua Inc. reportedly received a $100m investment. The number does not appear to be officially confirmed, and different sources on the web are inconsistent about whether it represents a funding round, an outright acquisition, or a mix of both. Either way, the figure is impressive and has sent a few ripples through an otherwise placid industry.

For much of the past decades, conventional wisdom about the IP management business has had it that IP-related services, particularly renewal payment services, were the primary source of customer value – and profit – in this industry. Software was frequently used as a loss leader, a bait to win a lucrative renewals deal, or gimmick to be thrown in to increase differentiation against the competition. That was the era of docketing systems, electronic diary and calendaring tools that helped with the legal and administrative aspects of filing and prosecuting patents, such as calculating due dates, filling out forms, and paying fees.

In the mid 2000’s, new players like Anaqua in North America and Unycom in Europe entered the scene from a different perspective, and started to build pure-play software companies around the value proposition of managing intellectual assets from a business perspective. Please see our recent Whitepaper for a more detailed look at the differences between docketing systems and intellectual asset management software (IPfolio belongs to the latter category in case you had any doubt).

The behemoths of the renewals industry were quick enough to react, and used their strong cash flows to serially swallow up smaller software companies. This way, several emerging innovative players in the software market have been reduced to door-openers and customer retention instruments for the ever-lucrative renewals business, which did not help to drive software innovation in our industry.

In 2010 however, Anaqua was the first company to turn the tables and acquire a renewals service provider. Sticking to their original playbook – keeping their software offering as the main value proposition – and providing renewals as a value-added service on top seems to have worked out quite well.

We follow a similar vision, with the difference that IPfolio strives to make advanced IP management technology available to the broadest possible audience, while Anaqua appears to remain strongly focused on the large-enterprise market. So I am very excited to see them doing so well. Their successful investment round/acquisition validates the business model of IPfolio and other software-centric players in the IP Management space, and serves as an indicator that the tides have shifted: IP services are becoming increasingly commoditized, and IP management software like IPfolio is the real driver that delivers added value to clients’ businesses, helping them to create, protect, and utilize intellectual property that is aligned with their business strategy.

Glimpsing into the future, I will not be surprised if we see more successful software companies acquire providers of renewals and other commoditized services, rather than the other way around as we have witnessed in the past. A new era has dawned, and clients will benefit by getting ever-better tools to manage their valuable IP assets.

USPTO to Select its Silicon Valley Location

Silicon Valley is one of the most IP intense regions in the world. The city of Sunnyvale has the highest number of inventors per capita in the world, according to recent data from the USPTO. IP has been making headlines lately with big Silicon Valley companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Facebook battling over their patent rights.

However, IP is not only for large companies with huge portfolios, it is extremely important for smaller companies as well. Many startups, right here in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, build their IP strategies early and pursue patents and trademarks as an integral part of their business strategy. In fact, startups building their IP portfolios form a significant part of our customer base.

The IP community in Silicon Valley is now growing even stronger with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s expanded operations here. A temporary USPTO location has been set up in Menlo Park, and the new permanent office is scheduled to open in 2014. It’s the first time in history for the Office to operate outside of the Washington DC area. The first outpost in Detroit was created last year, and the new Silicon Valley office will open its doors in one of the candidate cities of Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Mountain View or San Jose. The South Bay was selected based on ease of transportation and access to multiple major airports, as this office will be a hub for the western region of the US.

Michelle Lee, USPTO Silicon Valley Office Director, said in a meeting in Sunnyvale this past May 4 that the main purpose of the Silicon Valley location is to provide faster and better access to the USPTO and to offer easier communication with patent applicants. A further goal is to attract talented staff to reduce the backlog of unexamined patents, which will help companies move their innovations to market more quickly.

We have seen first-hand how patents are a significant factor in private sector job creation. It is nice to see that the U.S. Commerce Department has taken note and reported that IP-intensive industries are the source of 40 million jobs, contributing $5.06 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2010.

The opening of the local USPTO outpost will bring even more IP activity to Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, and we are likely to see more IP-related business expand on the U.S. West Coast. We are excited to be growing right along with the Bay Area IP community!

The Mindset of an Innovator – Creating an Innovating Company Culture

Companies need great innovators to come up with solutions for the future. Many firms have established formal innovation programs to encourage their engineers to come up with new and innovative solutions to their customers’ problems. Incentives are often financial and based on number of invention disclosures submitted and intellectual property granted. But what type of mindset does a successful innovator have? What can managers do to stimulate an innovative company culture? What softer factors should organizations consider when designing invention programs? Here are some basic tips on how companies can understand the “innovation mindset” and encourage an innovation driven culture.

Encourage Out-of-the-Box Thinking

An innovator needs to be visionary and have imagination. A true innovator can imagine things that don’t exist yet and envision solutions that will lead to a better world. Managers should encourage their staff to envision the future, think big and contribute to a work environment where new ideas are embraced. A successful innovator has the courage and support from management to share her/his thoughts and ideas with team members, no matter how big or small the ideas are.

Collaboration is Key

Successful innovators collaborate and try new things together with colleagues and co-inventors. Team members that support others’ ideas and are helpful to others are more successful than people that just keep everything to themselves. Management should encourage a “sharing” culture.

Work Hard and Don’t Give Up

Inventors should not be afraid of failure but embrace challenges. A successful innovation culture encourages the teams not to give up but to be determined and work hard. Hard work should be rewarded.

Reflect – What Works and What Doesn’t Work

It is also important to be reflective and evaluate why things are not working but also why they are working. Inventors should get feedback from others on a regular basis. Encourage an environment that is friendly and open for feedback.

Talk to Customers to Validate Ideas

Innovators need to know scientific facts and principles relevant to their work. They need to know how to use technology and tools that allow them to create, test and share their ideas. But innovators also need to understand their users and incorporate the user’s mindset when developing and testing new ideas. Customers are no longer just consumers, they are often co-creators and very active in letting companies know what they want or don’t want. Today’s technology allows for a whole new way of communicating, collaborating and sharing ideas. Understanding the user has never been easier, and managers should encourage innovators to talk to customers often to get input and validate ideas.

The Collaborative Innovation Process

The basic innovation process starts with identifying the goals. What problems need solutions? What are our aligned values as a company? What are we trying to accomplish? What are your specific objectives for R&D and innovation investments, and how will you connect your investments with innovation output?

The next step is to generate ideas, share those ideas and get some feedback. The third step is designing the solutions, and the fourth step is creating the solutions. The new creations are then tested and evaluated. If necessary, the solution is tweaked or redesigned in another iteration.

Each of these steps fills an important part of the company’s success to innovate. And did we mention to share throughout the process…?

Does your company need a culture change to be more innovative? Or are you ready to tackle the competitive global markets in the way you are currently set up?

Social and Mobile Collaboration – an Enabler for Innovation & IP Management

Employees are demanding more social and mobile collaboration within their companies, according to a recent study by ABI Research. New social tools and platforms are emerging as alternatives to email and previous-generation collaboration platforms. There is great value in connecting people in a smarter way, especially if you have multiple locations and employees working remotely. Social networks are also very useful for new employees and for employees working with different teams or within different departments. Bringing everyone together to stay connected and tap into the teams’ expertise is a win-win for companies to stay competitive.

To promote collaborative IP Management, we have embedded Chatter into IPfolio. Chatter is an enterprise social network that works similar to the way Facebook and LinkedIn do. It enables people in the organization such as inventors, R&D managers, IP managers and lawyers to connect instantly without having to send emails. Chatter allows you to receive news, updates and follow people and projects. You can also create special groups to limit exposure of a discussion. Sharing files with Chatter is easy — upload with a click, and everyone sees the updates.

Using Chatter for Collaborative IP Management

Imagine that you are an IP manager evaluating a newly received invention disclosure. You want to involve a product manager, your outside patent attorney, and a few senior engineers located at a separate research facility into the discussion. Coordinating a live meeting with all these people is difficult and time-consuming. Chatter allows you to invite them to a discussion on your invention disclosure and seek their comments. They will be notified by email, and you can choose to receive email notifications when anyone adds a comment to the discussion, or as a daily digest.

Sharing is Caring – Applied to Innovation

At IPfolio, we are passionate about our mission to offer modern, agile and affordable IP management tools and support our innovative customers. To innovate can be defined as “to find something original in the ordinary”. Warren Berger suggests in his book “The Four Phases of Design Thinking” four steps companies can take to stimulate innovation.

  1. Connect. Find ways to bring together concepts, people, and products. Many great breakthroughs are “mash-ups” of existing ideas.
  2. Question. Don’t just ask the obvious questions. Look deeper and don’t be afraid to rethink basic fundamentals about your business and products.
  3. Care. Caring doesn’t just mean giving great customer service. Get to know your customers as intimately as possible. Immerse yourself in the lives of the people you are trying to serve.
  4. Commit. Give form to your idea as quickly as possible: create a prototype and begin testing it right away. This is the only way to know if you’ve touched on something truly promising.

These tips can easily be incorporated when working in IPfolio. The concept of “Sharing is Caring” is an important aspect of collaboration that we start teaching our children at Kindergarten age. Chatter makes knowledge sharing and collaboration easy and fun, and that is what users expect to find in a modern Intellectual Property Management platform.

The Opportunities Are Out There

Last week I got back from my first trip to India. Snow storms in Frankfurt and a broken plane in Munich resulted in a double-layover, 40h trip to get there. Leaving the comfort zone was rewarded with pleasant weather and a truly international and eye-opening experience.

ITAG had mounted an impressive conference with almost 400 sessions in 3 parallel tracks, stretched out over 8 days. The entire event had a very friendly and personal mood, with lots of networking and community-building. The international “IP jet-set” crowd constituted a significant portion of the delegates, with many of them spending a few days at the convention, taking off for business meetings in other parts of the country, and then showing up again for another day or two.

So did I: after my presentation about Managing IP from a Business Perspective, offsite workshops in Bangalore and Pune made for welcome changes of scenery on the following days. Organized by our partner Patracode, the workshops drew up to 35 people from numerous innovative Indian companies, and IPfolio was received with great interest.

This vast country provides abundant opportunities in many areas, and intellectual property management certainly is one of them. Companies big and small are developing IP strategies and creating corporate IP functions, with double-digit annual growth rates across the different types of IP rights as a result.

 

Preparations for a splendid Indian wedding at our conference hotel

 

While I have been traveling Europe and North America for many years, Asia had been largely undiscovered territory for me. Visiting India opened my eyes for this part of the world, and we are now busy making plans for entering new markets in several other regions of the continent.

Another continent is already covered. Half way around the world from India lies Brazil, another BRIC economy with impressive growth in R&D investment and resulting IP output. Brazil is home to ProspeQta, with whom we announced our second international partnership today. ProspeQta will bring IPfolio to the South American market, with a focus on Brazil.

Later this month, I will travel to Florida to meet up with our new partners from ProspeQta. While I am hoping that my itinerary won’t be disrupted by snowstorms this time, I will take it as it comes. Sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone to discover new opportunities.

How To Get Inventors To Submit Invention Disclosures

There are many things companies have to do right in order to stay competitive. To say the least, innovation is crucial. Many companies are focused on growth strategies and have designed programs to accelerate innovation. However, they often struggle to get formal invention disclosures from their R&D community that would allow them to adequately protect the inventions generated along the way. In particular, it is hard for many companies to get the right invention disclosures, those that will turn into valuable IP assets that support the company’s long-term strategy. The challenge for any invention program is to get the inventors to find the program inspiring and the invention disclosure process attractive and painless. Why is this so hard, and what can we do to reduce the pain in the invention disclosure submission process?

First, let’s take a look at the reality that many engineers and scientists face in their companies today. Submitting an invention disclosure may not be as smooth as you think. Most often, painful word documents or PDF forms have to be filled out. Old and outdated forms are often, sometimes by mistake, circulated and delay the invention disclosure process even further as information needs to be collected and re-submitted.  This is causing not only time constraints, but also a great deal of frustration.

How do you get your inventors to submit their ideas in a timely and efficient manner? How do you reduce the effort for inventors to submit the needed information? How do you get the inventors to not find the process painful but actually enjoyable? These are essential questions, regardless of company size.

Engineers and Scientists Expect Modern Tools

News flash – times have changed. Employees are using new devices, such as tablets and smart phones, nice screens and great looking software applications. If not at work, they do it at home. Technological development has sped things up, and tech-savvy inventors don’t want to spend time filling out chunky old forms or working in old-fashioned databases. They want to submit ideas easily, simply and quickly in a system that is smart. They do not want to retype information that has already been submitted. They want – and expect – to work in a modern and user-friendly environment.

What Is the Solution?

Using an invention portal – a web-based application – is the easiest way to keep and maintain an invention disclosure database and improve the submission process. No more outdated forms, as the portal is always up to date. Relevant information, including business and market related input, is included. Inventors’ names and contact information are stored, kept and easily updated. Inventors can add co-inventors with a click and re-use information that is stored in the IP portal without having to re-type anything. Secure and automated password administration functionality saves time and makes the process seamless.

IPfolio Inventors Portal

Preview of the IPfolio Inventors’ Portal home screen.

A modern inventor portal does not only provide a robust database, but a user-friendly interface and search tool. No more screens that look like from the seventies. Inventors can easily look up their previous inventions and see where they are in the IP process.

Using an inventor portal is a great advantage even for companies with smaller IP portfolios, or companies just starting up their IP development program. An invention portal supports the invention process from the very start by asking the inventors the right questions, making it easy for inventors to submit accurate information, and reducing the time to keep the intellectual property database updated. Since the portal can be seamlessly integrated with the IP management system, it all comes together beautifully!

So what can companies do to ease the pain for inventors to submit invention disclosures? The design of the innovation program is of course very important, and we will cover that more in upcoming white papers. But a very good start is to give your inventors a modern and pleasant method for submitting their disclosures.

Announcing the IPfolio Inventors’ Portal

You will not be surprised that IPfolio is rolling out a state-of-the-art Inventors’ Portal that integrates seamlessly with the tools in place for managing the remaining IP lifecycle. We will be updating our Product pages shortly with more detailed information. Stay tuned!

 

 

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