IPBC 2012, IP more like a 6 year old than at a Tipping Point

by Andrew Watson on 25 June 2012

Executive summary. Opportunity missed to set the business tone.

Is IP at a Tipping Point? According to IPBCs keynote opening address it is. Six speakers on the keynote panel, four US accents (very able but why, do we not have talent in Europe?), three officers from the patent and trademark offices in the US and Europe (Europe’s, as ever, is split into two functions), dominated by about 80% talk about patents, but not a CEO in sight. 

The closest we came to a business leader was the CEO of the Rockstar Consortium. He looked like and talked like one of our client’s ambitious and visionary CEOs. 

Some debate on whether it is at a Tipping Point naturally from individuals own perspectives. More patents, faster granted patents through automation, SOPA, PIPA, smartphone patent wars, more trademarks, lower fees, better examination, Nortel as a landmark (described as seminal, I don’t think so) event. 

It would be hard to disagree that IP has come a long long way this last 12 months. But as a father of five, I find it hard to say that this is a Tipping Point as described and defined by Gladwell in his book of the same name. Let me explain.

I have five kids aged between 6 and 14. With all five we’ve had a range of  what we thought were Tipping Points towards disaster. And many where we thought that we had reached the persistent breakthrough but then realised that despite our joy, they would then do something unexpected and often stupid that made us question our parenting skills. 

And IPs evolution is following the same sort of path. It’s probably closest in maturity to my 6 year old. She thinks she can be a lady but she just can’t (that breaking wind and laughing runs down my Geordie side of the family, quite an inheritance I think), thinks she can dress herself but then creates odd combinations. 

If IP were at a Tipping Point then we would be falling over CEOs at this, the best of all the IP events on the circuit. We would be bumping into PE fund managers in the loos, getting coffee invites from analysts and investment bankers. And the keynote panel would be talking to those exact same people in a language they would all understand.

So no we are not there yet and I don’t think, looking back when I’m 60 (11.5 years from now) that we will ever be able to identify one event, one year, one person, one seminal moment when it all came together. Like my 12 year old we will not know why he’s suddenly a just great kid. It’s a series of random, unconnected, persistent and dogmatic points that all join together to create a result that joins the dots looking backwards. 

But at least I like a lot of the IP community. What a joy to bump into my first contact this morning, the charming John Olsen from Edwards Wildman. John smiled his charming smile when I said he looked like half a John Olsen. He’s been running on his treadmill every day and looks like one of those ads for a guy with pants that are now triple his waist size.  John told me that this week is the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth. He also told me that Dickens spent many of his last years chasing down people breaking his copyrights in the US. As ever John, right on the money. 

Number of times the word “patent” mentioned in the keynote. 236 in 60 minutes. That is 3.933 times per minute. Trade marks got 25. Intellectual capital got 1. Copyrights nil. Designs 1. This IP community is still, in my humble view at a neanderthal level, knocking on for being 6 years old but with a long way to go.

Think I need to find a subset of this community that thinks like me. Who’s out there?  There’s never been a better time for us future thinkers who think beyond hitting people with big sticks and smiling at the cleverness of it all. Anyone up for starting an ip fire. I’ll bring the kindling.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick White 06.25.12 at 11:25 pm

Fascinating insights into the family Watson! IPBC? What’s new Andrew? US dominates, Europe has a seat at the table and where is Asia? For some pundits we may be at a tipping point but not the tipping point and as I have flagged in other posts the point that tips is never the point you expect. For me it’s as if the IP community is whistling in the dark, keeping their spirits up. Drooling over the patent wars and the first tipping point namely Nortel and all the froth around monetization of IP, with Patent Trolls, Patent Gorillas, NPEs…..my head is spinning in this IP nirvana. The IP community has lost the plot. IP is subordinate it’s not the point. That’s one reason why a CEO would not be seen within 100 miles of this event. It is irrelevant.

Truth is the thinking around IP and IP itself is in a pretty bad way; we just don’t realise it yet. I don’t think it has come a long way at all in the past 5 years and is on a monotonous path dictated by US thinking mainly on patents, which are seen as the only IP of interest. You will probably find that you are one of the few attendees at IPBC that has a) spotted the lack of CEOs etc and b) thinks that this is a problem. Ditto the IP ratios in the keynote. Ask yourself why is that?

So where are all the evangelist IP CEOs? They are sat around the real world IP fire warming their hands nicely and happily getting along without giving much thought to the IP community, their navel gazing around IP and that elusive tipping point.

Jackie Hutter, IP Strategist and CEO 06.26.12 at 1:42 am

Funny getting this post today: was on the phone with a friend, colleague and client who has transitioned from an just-below C-level innovation position at a US Fortune consumer hardware company to the newly-created position of VP of IP Strategy in the last year. (She did this after engaging me for a couple of big projects and realized how much money her lawyers were allowing her to leave on the table by putting risk in front of value creation.)
Long story short, she is once again faced with pushing back on her lawyers when they are trying to stop her from doing the right thing in the business. I found that her lawyers were flat out wrong on their interpretation of case law as it related to business risk they were stating to her. She took my advice about the real risk in moving forward with an existing product and did something ingenious: she set up a decision tree/game theory assessment that blew up the lawyers’ opinions with facts about dollars lost/gained in a number of possible paths forward.
I tell this story because this business-focused approach to IP was eye-opening and ground-breaking, even to me as a thought-leader in the area of IP strategy. My first reaction was “we should write a paper about this,” then I realized that if we did, her strategy would be known to her competitors and become ineffective.
I think there are lots more people like my friend who are quietly practicing IP strategy at a high level in their respective organizations, and in the meantime about to show their IP lawyers the door. The optics, however, are of lawyers yacking about how fabulous they are and how government functionaries crowing about how great their patent systems have become.
Do I wish strategic IP was happening faster and with more noise? Of course! But I think it is happening quietly and effectively at many corporations.

Nick White 06.27.12 at 4:12 pm

Bravo Jackie! You should never let the tail wag the dog! The best IP Strategists I know are not called IP Strategists and are not peddling services and are certainly not in any Halls of Fame. Frankly, I look at the IAM 300 and it makes me smile, some on the list should be really embarrassed. One of the problems with this space is that the high profile pundits on IP Strategy at events such as the IPBC have an agenda, which is probably representative of about 5% of the IP market. They also forget that IP is subordinate; it always has been and always will be.

On Andrew’s point about maturity, look at the IPBC events. They have been going for 4 years. The agenda is pretty much the same. The attendees are pretty much the same. What’s new? What’s changing? What is the wider world learning from this? Nothing. A talking shop for the initiated and a magazine largely read by those who already “get it” about IP is not going to change the world of IP any time soon for the 95%.

Jackie Hutter, IP Strategist and CEO 06.27.12 at 4:49 pm

Yes, Nick, but the IPBC and IAM are at their core money-making propositions, so they’re going to dance with the folks that buy the tickets. This is not to say that I am not grateful for the opportunities that being on the IAM 250 has provided me for the last 4 years, but once again this year I felt almost scolded that I did not buy a “premium listing” (after suggesting in each past year that since I did not have a big marketing budget like law firms and large consulting practices, I would much appreciate a less costly option). IAM apparently dealt with free-riders like me by expanding the list to 300 this year. As they continue to cater to those with–as you say–”agendas” I think they will have less to offer those 95% of us who play outside of their sandbox. Leaves room for another business model out there, that’s for sure.

Joff Wild 06.27.12 at 7:28 pm

Mick and Jackie – tell us what we are doing wrong and if we agree we’ll act on it. Like you, we are building a business. We don’t get everything right. But we want to learn and we want to get better. Article and IPBC presentation ideas are always gratefully received. So fire away!

Joff Wild 06.27.12 at 7:38 pm

Apologies Nick!

One other thought. We focus on the patent market because that’s what people want to talk about and learn about. Our business is to report what is going on and what is going on is patents. When that changes, then we will report that too. But for it to change strategists need to get to work. That’s where you come in. It’s your job to enthuse the CEOs, the VCs and other investors. If they see value in what you’re saying and doing there is no doubt they’ll be eager to work with you. This year at the IPBC we had delegates from a range of finance houses that we had never had before. We’ll have more next year as the interest in patents continues to grow among investors. And there is absolutely no doubt it is growing. I agree that there is a lot more to IP than patents. When will see the brand or trade secret equivalent of the smartphone wars to convince boardrooms and Wall Street too? Maybe they’ll end up teaching us a thing or two.

Nick White 06.28.12 at 9:52 am

@Joff, No need to apologise Joff! We have had previous correspondence on my main point as you know. It’s not that you are doing anything wrong as such (well perhaps the IAM 300 and the Hall of Fame….bit tacky) it’s that what you are doing right is not heard. The problem is that IAM, IPBC, INTIPSA, CIPA etc are very insular. There is a much wider community engaged with IP that could make use for example of some of the fantastic insights in the IAM magazine for example, but you are in effect preaching to the converted. Never has there been a greater need for wider dissemination of sound thinking (and bad thinking) around IP. That’s what I am working on with third parties and investors. How to get a wider dissemination of commercial IP knowledge into boardrooms and the development of real world expertise. There are a growing number of “leading” IP events such as IPBC, they all look pretty similar with the same pundits talking to the same people. What is the point?

Perhaps you could report on more than patents. More than IP even. Intellectual assets only come into existence through intellectual endeavour that is then commercialised. There is plenty of evidence popping up now and then on these important issues that impact the IP world. Perhaps not for you.

Don’t worry Joff, I have been enthusing inventors, CEOs, VCs and politicians about IP for a lot longer than IAM has been around and will continue to do so! I just don’t make a song and dance about it and don’t seek endorsement. One of the problems that has to be addressed is that the IP strategy world is full of pundits that talk-the-talk (just) but can’t walk-the-walk. Not sure that matters too much as most don’t want to listen anyway and get by without giving IP strategy a second thought. For the rest, those that may engage, the “strategy” word in relation to IP is a turn-off as it often precedes hours of bullshit and a sales pitch. On a more “positive” or even “constructive” note Govts are starting to engage in this space and so something useful may come out of that.

The increase in delegates from finance is not a positive in my opinion. They are even less likely to really get IP than your average CEO and will probably just pour money into the current IP monetization zeitgiest, perhaps investing in IV or similar ventures. Attending IPBC they will completely get the wrong end of the stick about IP. It’s ironic that these very same people have walked away on mass from investing in invention and innovation opportunities. A major issue in the US and Europe. Like Andrew I would like to see more CEOs from all levels of industry.

Presentations for IPBC or articles for IAM? I think anything I have to say would be a waste of time through these channels and I’m more interested in engaging with a wider audience and making a difference. That’s not a reflection on the quality of the magazine.

@Jackie, Oh yes! Plenty of head space for something new!

Nick White 06.28.12 at 12:04 pm

Here’s one to chew over. http://bit.ly/M85ZhK

How do you think the IP Community can make a difference here if any?

Jackie Hutter, IP Strategist and CEO 06.28.12 at 12:18 pm

Joff: would love to talk to you off line if appropriate. But, if your business model is successful communicating to 5% of the relevant IP audience, and it would require you to pivot to engage “downmarket” (eg folks like me and my cohorts), while at the same time potentially alienating your core group of customers, you should probably forget about what I think and continue on your plan. What I know is that there’s more to IP than Teleco and related technologies as it relates to value creation and monetization (where I also play somewhat), but the market is just not as developed and it’s harder to execute. But Teleco etc was in this exact place 10-15 years ago and they blazed the trail, so it looks like it will be a quicker journey for the rest of us. Just keep us in your radar as you move forward with your business plan–we may not be so downmarket forever.

Jackie Hutter, IP Strategist and CEO 06.28.12 at 12:29 pm

@nick There’s a lot behind Steve Blank’s approach, but as someone who has spoken and wrote about the dysfunctional nature of tech transfer of emerging technologies into the commercial sphere and who lives this everyday in my role as CEO of a technology licensing company, this gets me very excited. http://steveblank.com/2012/06/11/making-a-dent-in-the-universe-results-from-the-nsf-i-corps/ This is just getting rolled out and tested in the US, so you may not have heard about it. After reading about the underlying concepts and initially applying them to my own startup company, I am a believer. At a minimum, adoption at the public and academic levels of his approach could help hone the value proposition of disruptive technology for commercial application much earlier, which I am sure will enhance the probability that good technology finds a home in business. And, if Blank and his team are right, we can expect ground breaking innovations to make it into the market at a much faster rate, which is critical because if we keep innovating at this rate, we are doomed. IP strategy folks like us are at the intersection point of business and invention and so can do much to effect value creation using these concepts in both worlds for the good of everyone–in other words: make a dent in the universe. (Off my soapbox now!)

Nick White 06.28.12 at 1:35 pm

@Jackie, I think this schism in the IP world (upmarket and downmarket players) is a fundamental problem. I am on the side of neither…I’m on the side of IP….IP the brand. Without a doubt, technology creation/invention and technology transfer is the space to be involved with and IP properly addressed is just along for the ride. One space I am active in is Open Innovation models and this technology transfer interface. Buckets of IP issues and enlightenment needed but if we get this right the benefits could be enormous. This is urgently needed in Europe for example. This area is light years away from the current obsessions and fluff around Trolls, IP monetization thinking and patent wars. Thanks for the link.

Andrew Watson 06.30.12 at 6:02 am

A good debate. I only just picked up that this had continued. A couple of comments

1. To Joff. You are in a quite unique position having grabbed the business & IP space for lots of applications. But, and these words pain me, Nick is right. The patent fixation is meaning that someone else could grab the next big thing leaving you vulnerable. I dont see you as a reporter of history only but also a platform for thought leaders and IP innovators. That is what was largely missing from IPBC. Nick is controversial and a bit of a lone wolf but he deserves a platform for his expertise as much if not more than those who have been on the circuit saying largely the same things for 10 years.

2. To balance that out and these words please me, Nick you are wrong. The IP community does need to evolve and there is room for experts to talk to experts at conferences like IPBC. Criticism should be constructive and informed. You weren’t there but I gave it 7, which is 70%. There were many positives for me as I organised my time to meet 4 potential clients, one existing client, who we had recommended to go, two suppliers and one new distribution partner. And then to enjoy some leading edge people as people like Andrew Ramer, Peter Holden, Donal o Connell, Raymond Hegarty, Sherry Knowles, Sam Funnell, Haydn Evans, Rob Harrison and Ruud Peters. I have made the same mistake as you and forged my own path but at some stage you’ll realise that the experts you disparage will be needed as part of your network. I have learned from my mistakes Nick and would advise you to engage.

3. The IP Hall of Fame is a little too American for me but it is celebrating large IP contributions. 4 of 5 US inductees does tell it’s story and verify many of Nicks points though. I’d like to celebrate those who are forging the future though. Put Nick in and ask him to speak at IPBC 2013 in Boston or the China event. That will appeal to his need, like all of us in different degrees, to be loved and appreciated.

Nick White 06.30.12 at 10:36 am

1. Amen Andrew and not because of the comments about me, which are not that important (sorry to be causing you so much pain). Fixation about patents is one problem but also the fixation on a certain sector of the IP community/market. I think the point about leading as opposed to reporting is a very good one. I have suggested as much in correspondence with you Joff, where I see a widening of IAMs readership base and access to the wealth of knowledge and expertise presented through the magazine and the website as doing great good for you and the wider community. One suggestion; the ability to pay for and download pre-prints of some articles. Not for me…I don’t need most! Most don’t who subscribe. It’s for our networks. The wider second tier community that would see the point and act upon it. I would point these people who need guidance information to your website/magazine for education and enlightenment. Hell I would even pay for their download. It is frustrating for me to see that so few seem to make it to your blog (one of the best in the industry). We don’t have a well informed mainstream press or voice for IP. I do my best to educate journalists and politcians and to provide them with data, to correct their mistakes (privately) etc all without endorsement. My only interest is accuracy and transparency of the debate in the interests of clarity about IP. Have a look at the FT over the past two years and you will see I have unfortunately had little impact but others have. But you see I am not looking for PR so I have no PR budget.

IAM could go to the next level and be so much more than a magazine for the initiated, the clique.

2. We all forge our own paths and paths cross. I am more engaged than you may think Andrew just not with the average attendee at IPBC or similar events and not necessarily with the IP community alone. This community at IPBC level is a bit rarefied. I don’t disagree with the points about networking etc and I’m not disparaging these experts, many of whom, and more, are already in my network and actively so. If anything I am disparaging the clique mentality around IP at the present and supporting your view about the missing 30%. The 70% is fine and just as it ever was.

3. All I can say is “I would never join any club that wanted me as a member.” There is one thing I have never felt I needed in the IP world and that has been to be loved and appreciated! If I needed that I would toe the line and keep my mouth shut.

Nick White 06.30.12 at 12:38 pm

Last thought for this week…promise! I am not too sure what we actually mean by “IP community”. Pretty meaningless really. The only common ground between often disparate interests around IP is the institution itself. IP.

You have been amusingly vociferous about “brands” recently Andrew. One I particularly agree with is the problem with “The Beautiful Game.” I see IP in a similar way, a fundamentally good, important and vital institution with a reputation a brand if you will damaged by those who purport to support it, but who cynically undermine and exploit it for their own ends.

Do you look up to your bank manager these days, do you trust him? Or do you treat him with similar disdain to Iniesta (a hero) rolling around with feigned injury in the penalty area? In years gone by you would have not seen the problem. But today with your 56 inch plasma HD TV and fantastic multi-angle slow motion shots you see the sham in all its cynical glory laid bare. Do you think all footballers are like him? IP is no different we have our Iniestas (Trolls and Patent Gorillas) and our honest players. IP is like any other institution in or modern times such as banking; in disrepute, under pressure, in danger and in need of saving.

I think Niall Ferguson (well know neo-conservative historian…try not to be blinkered by that) hit on some important themes in his BBC Reith lectures that are very pertinent to this problem. At one point he mentioned that we (especially in the West and US in particular) no longer have the rule of law we have the rule of lawyers; so true in IP. What he is actually referring to is the crumbling of our capitalist institutions and the unprecedented change that has occurred in only a generation. These have become exclusive and not inclusive. We did not see the banking crisis coming although some were waving their hands around. Through the lens of the media we now see how ugly The Beautiful Game has become. When are we going to wake up to the crumbling of that fundamental important institution that is IP?

Andrew Watson 06.30.12 at 4:58 pm

Too deep for me. I just think the people with whom I’m engaging as clients and partners think IP is intriguing and rather sexy, waiting to be fully explored. I think so too.

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