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How to Make Sure Your IP Strategy Plan is Not Doomed to Failure

Jackie Hutter

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Smart business leaders understand today that IP Strategy should form a fundamental pillar of their value creation-directed business strategy. By taking a “business eye view" toward IP, forward-thinking corporate managers seek to capture the true value of their company, which today is increasingly measured in the form of intangible assets such as patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets.

If you have read this far, you no doubt realize that your company must develop and execute on an IP Strategy in order to maximize intangible asset value. But, IP Strategy is only one part of the process of generating and maximizing this asset value. Even the most robust business-directed IP Strategy is likely doomed to failure if your company does not also establish an IP Culture within your organization. Put simply, as a manager responsible for the execution of your company's IP strategy, you must work to destroy the “IP Expert" silo that likely exists today in your company.

This silo consists of the designated “IP Experts" in your company who are typically R & D-oriented employees and your in-house IP lawyers. In developing IP rights in this typical corporate silo, an R & D employee will notify in-house IP lawyers that he has invented something, and the latter will validate the “inventiveness" of the idea. Together these designated “IP Experts" will decide whether the invention merits protection in a patent or whether it should remain a trade secret. The decision of whether to obtain a patent happens almost exclusively in this “IP Expert" silo. Moreover, if your business leaders are involved at all in this process, they are only involved with power to veto the previous “IP Expert" validation of the value of the invention. And, once the “IP Experts" start on the road to obtaining a patent, few business people are willing to overrule the previous “expert" decision to proceed.

By destroying this “IP Expert" silo in your company and replacing it with a business-oriented IP Strategy, you will enable those outside of your corporate R & D and Legal functional operations to generate IP that will more likely directly enhance your corporate intangible asset value. However, it takes more than just destroying your existing “IP Expert" silo to be successful in maximizing your company's IP asset value.

Your company must also foster a community of involvement that will allow each and every employee to understand the value of IP to your company's P & L. In short, your company must work to create an IP Culture throughout your organization. I have come up with this simple formula to demonstrate the relationship between IP Strategy and IP Culture in the realm of IP Value Creation:

IP Value Creation = (IP Strategy) x (IP Culture)
Using this formula, no matter how good your company's IP Strategy may be (or how much money you spend on consultants to develop your IP Strategy), if your company does not establish and nurture an IP Culture (i. e. , IP Culture = zero), IP Value Creation will end up being zero. Moreover, if a company short-changes the IP Culture aspect of the equation (i. e. , IP Culture value is less than 1), IP Value Creation will be less-than-optimum. On the flip-side, if the organization has a high IP Culture rating, IP Value Creation can be achieved even when there is not a robust IP Strategy on which to execute.

How does your company create an IP Culture? The answer is quite simple: push responsibility for IP outside of the R & D and in-house Legal “IP Expert" silos to those who work at all areas of your company. This requires significant educational efforts because, in most companies, personnel outside of R & D and Legal are not generally able to recognize whether their efforts relate to protectable intellectual property or trade secrets. As a result, they typically do their jobs without awareness that their innovations, if captured and protected, could provide your company with valuable proprietary advantage over competitors.

Under the existing paradigm at your company, your employee's ignorance about the value of her innovations to the organization means that those responsible for capturing and maximizing corporate asset value never find out about her innovation. And, in my view, if an innovation is not identified as having value, this innovation, in fact, has no value and, as an unrecognized asset has no corporate value.

The key to building an IP Culture is to educate your employees who work outside of the “IP Expert" silos of R & D and Legal to recognize protectable innovations and to appropriately notify their managers of their innovations. In short, your employees need to be as much a part of the IP Strategy process as your designated corporate “IP experts".

One way to establish an IP Culture is to have your in-house IP staff serve as “IP Ambassadors" who go out into the company and engage in workshops. This approach has been very effective at IP Strategy and IP Value Creation thought-leaders such as BellSouth (now AT & T), Kimberly Clark and Proctor & Gamble. However, the success of an IP Ambassador program at your company depends on whether your IP experts can tackle a corporate-wide educational effort along with their existing responsibilities.

Another way to work to creating an IP Culture is to engage a consultant such as The Hutter Group to work with your organization. Use of a consultant to assist you in establishing an IP Culture allows your IP Experts to attend to their day-to-day tasks of protecting the IP that your company has already identified as being valuable. Additionally, use of a consultant to help you create an IP Culture within your organization has the additional benefit of allowing your company to bring best practices in IP Strategy and management that exist outside of your organization.

Regardless of whether your company seeks assistance from a consultant to assist you in developing an IP Culture in your organization, the reality is that you must do something in this regard to successfully create and maximize your IP Value. So, before your organization embarks on an expensive IP Strategy plan, make sure that you are not doomed to failure before you begin because you did not include in your plans development of an IP Culture.

Jackie Hutter is Principal of The Hutter Group, a leading provider of IP ("Intellectual Property") business counseling and competitive analytics to forward-thinking organizations that seek to maximize firm asset value by capitallizing on the power of intellectual property. She has over 13 years experience counseling innovation-driven companies, universities and business development and investment professionals in maximizing their firm intellectual asset value.

Jackie was named a SuperLawyer(R) in Intellectual Property in Georgia in 2004, and she has been a frequent speaker on IP issues to her fellow lawyers. Jackie was formerly Senior Patent Counsel at a Georgia-Pacific LLC, where she had sole responsible for Dixie(R) patent matters and, later, the company's Chemicals business. Prior to joining Georgia-Pacific, Jackie was a shareholder at the prestigious IP firm of Needle & Rosenberg, PC (now Ballard & Spahr), where she represented mulit-national companies, universities and innovators in protecting their IP to create maximum asset value. Jackie has also been a patent and IP litigator, which gives her a unique perspective in how to maximize firm IP value by avoiding litigation. Prior to attending law school on a full academic scholarship and where she graduated with honors, Jackie obtained her M. Pharmaceutical Sciences and she spent several years as practicing chemist at Helene Curtis (now Unilever). She is a named inventor on one U. S. patent. Jackie lives in Decatur, Georgia, in a groovy mid-Century modern house with her husband, 2 daughters and several pets.


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