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This is a guest post from fellow ipVA member and CEO Andrew Watson. Andrew will contribute to Tangible IP from time-to-time on areas of IP strategy and around contractual IP.

As my first post onto our blog, I’ll first pay Jordan the compliment of having been so disciplined and persistent in getting this and our new website up and running.

When scouting through the blog, the post on IAM’s hunt for the top IP strategists particularly caught my eye. IAM has contacted us and asked who we would nominate: It’s a hard question to answer.

The reason it’s hard is, to date, I don’t see many people who are genuinely delivering IP strategies to the level and calibre you would find of a Bain or Booz Allen consulting product. I see patent strategies, licensing strategies and lots of components of an IP strategy, but very little joined up thinking with the business.  And very few that actually lead the business.

Inside the IP elite, I’d guess that each of Microsoft, Qualcomm, Philips, Nokia, Google, Intel (and so on) all have their resident IP strategists.  But, without being rude, it’s a lot easier to build an IP strategy inside a company with large piles of incumbent IP and established brands and sizeable budgets to spend than it is inside the small cap companies who are building from the ground up.

So to my mind, the best IP strategists are those working inside small cap companies and making a tangible difference to shareholder value.  At this level of the market the myriad of boutique consultancies make it very hard to work out the good from the not so good.  And the people to ask about who’s good are their clients or those who have directly assessed their work (like the Legal 500 does): not other practitioners in the field.

As I’ve not had the opportunity to directly review many other people’s IP strategies in writing or action, I’m struggling to comment on who the best are to IAM. I know that Duncan Bucknell has a good reputation, and I have also heard good reports on Severin de Wit‘s work.  But how could a strategy be judged other than by reviewing it and talking to clients to see if it made a real difference?  I have worked with Craig Opperman at Morgan Lewis previously, and enjoyed the experience so I could objectively give him a vote in the top.

I’m too modest to to promote our own work, but I do think we do some good stuff and our clients seem to get a lot of strategic direction out of it. Tom Ewing is my own personal favourite IP strategist to work alongside here at ipVA.

Determining the top IP strategists is a tough question. Maybe when we have a standard on what a good IP  strategy looks like (with IP defined in its widest sense), the frame of reference around the answer might be whole lot easier.

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IAM’s hunt for the top 100 IP strategists

by Andrew Watson on 10 September 2008

Intellectual Asset Magazine (IAM) is on the hunt for the top 100 global IP strategists. In response, the IPEG Blog, from the folks at the Intellectual Property Expert Group, asks the question:

How does [strategy as "direction and scope of an organization over the long-term"] work in “intellectual property strategy”, so, in other words, how do we characterize an “IP Strategist” as someone who successfully employs the art of IP strategy?

Their answer, quoting George Steiner’s book Strategic Planning (Amazon) with some IP additions:

  • Strategy is that which top management does (with its IP) that is of great importance to the organization
  • Strategy refers to basic directional decisions, that is, to purposes and missions (of its current and future IP)
  • Strategy consists of the important actions necessary to realize these directions (with its IP)
  • Strategy answers the question: What should the organization be doing (with its IP)?
  • Strategy answers the question: What are the ends we seek (with our current and future IP) and how should we achieve them?

This is a good description of the overall aspects of strategy, but this is still a bit broad in terms of the questions and in terms of what IP strategy entails. Since starting at ipVA, I’ve come to see strategy as how it pulls together four key areas:

  1. IP assets – these are the patents, copyrights, trade marks, trade secrets and so on held by the business. The strategy elements here are in identifying what is at the core of the business (especially as it may not be what the business thinks it is).
  2. IP risks - the business and financial risks involving intellectual property, such as threat of patent litigation.
  3. Licensing and collaboration - how are the licences in and out of the business structured and do they reflect the commercial strategy of the business?
  4. Governance / Management of IP – This is a wide ranging area containing things like the IP budget, employee / consultant agreements, contract management, and board KPIs for IP. The thread for all of them however is the operational side of IP and how it ties in with other parts of the commercial strategy.

These four areas then get tied together by the IP strategy, which very much reflects the bullet points identified above by IPEG. That level of broad thinking is also necessary to prepare (and execute) an IP strategy.

One item not mentioned is how much IP strategy is really a reflection of the commercial goals and strategies of the business. For example, one strategy may be to stay off the radar of a major incumbent player until you’ve reached a certain size while preparing for an inevitable round of tough competition as they become aware of your company. The IP strategy for this could involve making sure that you have access to patents to file a counter suit should they sue you for patent infringement.

Because of the link between IP and commercial strategy, I’d say that IAM’s top 100 will have lots of people that understand both as the two are almost inextricably intertwined. No matter the definition of an IP strategist, it will be very interesting to see what IAM comes up with as their top 100.

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