Patent attorneys in particular are good at achieving specific targets when given – patent widgetX or litigate widgetY, but can often be more limited when it comes to broader business issues. They went to law school, not business school. In-house counsel tends to be risk adverse and regarded (by management) as a cost of doing business rather than as a way to build on the profit-making side.
Outside counsel may lack a broad understanding of the business issues and may even have been only asked to look at a strictly defined set of tasks (and therefore operate with blinders on). Though I think that all legal professionals take seriously the “counselling” part of their legal counsel role, there often exists real practical limits on how well they can tie in the legal protection to the overall commercial strategy.
Management consultants seem to have more access to the broader internal commercial issues at companies. Often they can be seen by management as a way of building value or at least finding ways of cutting costs. Otherwise, why would you hire them in? In contrast to lawyers, this group traditionally has more of the commercial strategy aspects but less of the on-the-ground knowledge on how to protect it.
IP strategy, as a profession, means tying together the commercial strategy aspects with the practical law of intellectual property. Because of this interplay between law and business, IP strategists can structure themselves as either management consultants or as lawyers. To that end, I think that we are a hybrid – a third way of looking at the issues that tries to combine the best of both law firms and management consulting to provide practical help with intellectual property.
Perhaps given the nature of the IP strategist corner of the profession, other business structures, such a multi-disciplinary practices — lawyers and non-lawyers in partnership — may (where allowed) appear. In the end, how IP strategists provide is though less important to our clients that what we provide and whether it meets their needs.
Long term, I’d like to see this and other issues discussed among strategists, perhaps through groups such as on LinkedIn or at in-person meetings. If you’d like to participate further, please leave a comment or send me an email. I’m envisioning a few evening social meetings (in London / South East at first and then expanding) and perhaps an email list for discussions about our growing industry among the professionals serving it.