Identifying the Crucial Qualities of Great IP Managers

By Curtis Droege
February 15, 2020

“‘Move fast and break things’ is a trendy innovation quote that may have its place, but I haven’t found it yet…. In my experience, the best inventions come from identifying problems and solving them. Period.”

https://depositphotos.com/85456002/stock-photo-intellectual-property-folder-name-in.htmlWhat’s the secret to Intellectual Property Management? After managing hundreds of inventions, I’m going to tell you the essential trait of an excellent IP Manager, and give my four best tips for managing what is often a company’s most valuable asset. The answers might surprise you.

IPWatchdog readers know the importance of capturing IP, whether it is patents, trademarks, copyrights, or trade secrets. This article isn’t detailing technical tips for filing patents or how to corner a strategic area of the market; the difference between a good and a great IP Manager is leadership. Capturing IP is one of many responsibilities of the IP Manager that falls in the middle of functional silos within technology companies, resulting in cross-functional barriers that must be navigated to achieve any measure of success.

While the goal is to create a strong IP portfolio, the business is people. When in the middle of functional silos, the IP Manager often relies on influence, not authority, to overcome cross-functional barriers. This requires true leadership.

It requires embracing the organization for what it is and working within it to accomplish the very important role of developing a competitive advantage through intangible assets. There will be budget limitations. How then can IP be developed that maintains a competitive position against current and emerging competitors? There will be engineers that are not motivated to disclose their inventions. With no authority, how can the IP Manager encourage these engineers to go the extra mile? And there may be policies that restrict engineers from reading competitors’ patents. So how can engineers maintain a cutting-edge knowledge for advancing the state-of-the-art? These are just three examples of the endless obstacles that I have encountered as an IP Manager. Perhaps even more important are the strategic challenges.

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Following are four strategic leadership concepts I believe promote a strong IP Management function:

  1. Process follows people – Processes are very important for efficiently harvesting inventions, for making consistent patent filing decisions in alignment with the company’s corporate strategy, and for rewarding inventors for their creativity and effort. However, we must never forget that inventors can be put-off by processes that appear rigid, haughty, or lack transparency. Steven Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says, “Think effectiveness with people and efficiency with things.”  In my efforts to achieve results, I have found that simply taking time to explain why an inventor’s disclosure did not “make the cut” helped to make a better inventor. Often, a one-on-one with the inventor resulted in an improved disclosure and more open communication. At the very least, the inventor gained a better understanding of what may be needed for the next invention.
  2. Inventing is a team sport – Having managed several hundred inventions, I have learned that very few inventions were invented by only one person. When invention disclosures were submitted with only one inventor, I learned to question its value. In the few times that I pushed back, the sole inventor invited additional team members into his thought process which resulted in a much more valuable invention. Cultivating a spirit of comradery, rewarding teamwork, and cross-functional contributions are key.
  3. Keep it real – “Move fast and break things” is a trendy innovation quote that may have its place, but I haven’t found it yet. How about “the only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible?” This is inspirational but very impractical. In my experience, the best inventions come from identifying problems and solving them. Period. Yes, creativity is needed. Yes, testing theories is part of the scientific process. And yes, stressing the limits of a design may lead to surprising discoveries. But an emphasis on “blue sky” thinking and catchy innovation quotes does not move the needle. In my 20+ years of experience, I have never witnessed an invention that is valuable to any company which is not limited by physics and other practical considerations.
  4. What gets measured gets managed – I have found this to be a true statement, unfortunately. The problem is that intellectual property, being an intangible asset, may be very difficult to measure. For example, a company’s patent may effectively block a competitor from competing with a similar product. But how will the company know that? In another example, a company’s patent may be infringed by a competitor, but the company chooses not to assert the patent. How is the value of such a patent captured?  In my experience, metrics are normally developed based on what can be objectively measured, such as the number of patents per employee, or the number of patents per R&D budget. These metrics are nearly worthless and can lead to terrible decisions. What should be measured, then?  Here are a few examples. For each invention, what is the:
    1. alignment to the company’s long-term strategy?
    2. level of technology-advance relative to the prior art?
    3. likelihood of modifying the competitors’ behavior to stop product development, pursue low-quality design-arounds, or seek a license?
    4. claim quality after patent prosecution is complete?

Each of these metrics takes careful consideration, requires subjective judgments, and may require years before an assessment can be done (such as with claim quality in Example D). Challenges aside, these are the types of metrics that will drive good decisions, encourage meaningful inventions, and ultimately help protect a company’s most strategic assets.

Keeping Balance

The role of IP Manager is a challenging one, but necessary to any organization that competes on the basis of technology innovation. It requires true leadership, the ability to balance competing priorities, and the ability to think strategically. A manager must never forget the delicate balance between effectiveness with people and efficiency with things.

Image Source: Deposit Photos
Image ID: 85456002
Copyright: tashatuvango 

The Author

Curtis Droege

Curtis Droege is Founder and President of Tungsten IP, an innovation advisory firm that provides intellectual property strategy and risk management consulting, among other services. Curtis is a seasoned inventor, startup owner, mechanical engineer, and patent agent. He previously served as Vice-President for Intellectual Property Insurance Services – the original patent insurance company. Prior to that, he served as Worldwide Patent Manager for Lexmark International.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 13 Comments comments. Join the discussion.

  1. MaxDrei February 15, 2020 5:29 pm

    My compliments, Mr Droege. Much of use here. It is as if the PR Dept at the EPO ghost-wrote it for you.

    But wait. Given a chance, the top management at the EPO would have imposed a veto on your text. This because of your very valuable warning that confining management to what is being measured is “worthless” and can lead to “terrible decisions”. Exactly such management within the EPO, currently, is destroying quality, painstakingly built over decades, and the EPO’s hard-won reputation. EPO President, I implore you, please take note.

  2. angry dude February 15, 2020 5:31 pm

    “Inventing is a team sport – Having managed several hundred inventions, I have learned that very few inventions were invented by only one person. When invention disclosures were submitted with only one inventor, I learned to question its value. In the few times that I pushed back, the sole inventor invited additional team members into his thought process which resulted in a much more valuable invention. Cultivating a spirit of comradery, rewarding teamwork, and cross-functional contributions are key.”

    I call BS on you, dude

    You must have “managed” one of those bestest “inventors” of the year from the likes IBM or similar outfits with patent filings every few days by dozens of “inventors” with one guy (the “boss”) listed on most of them – so he apparently never ate never pooped never slept – just filed junk patents for his entire group of “inventors” day and night

    BTW, legally US patent is invalid if true inventorship can’t be established …
    But you do know this… don’t you ???

  3. MaxDrei February 16, 2020 4:51 am

    Can anybody post a Link to the famous cartoon of which R+D folks, engineer inventors are so fond? It’s the one showing two beavers gazing up at the (enormous) Hoover Dam. One is saying to the other “Well, you know, I didn’t actually build it. But I invented it.”

    Of course Mr Angry is right about patent numbers. As Mr Droege reminds us, what gets measured gets managed. Measuring how many times an academic is published, or how many times an engineer is cited in a patent application as inventor: these days that’s what matters (much more than it should) for career prospects.

  4. Anon February 16, 2020 11:01 am

    Having been an IP manager, I can relate to many of the suggestions and ideas expressed in the article.

    That being said, I would also point out that one of the suggestions that should really be focused on provides a rather sharp spotlight on the direct takeaways of this article, and that ANY ONE who does have a role in managing IP should recognize that the suggestions here are not — and cannot – be universally applied.

    (for example, the very “measurement” to which the author has his own ‘regard’ meted out is AS a advisory firm that provides intellectual property strategy and risk management consulting services. THIS type of activity OFTEN is far more concerned with short-term turnarounds and evaliations (and may well be related to the evaluations for spin-off and asset evaluations in such things as break-ups).

    Your mileage will vary, as well it should.

    Instead of any one “lockstep” “THIS is the plan” advice, perhaps the best advice is that context matters, and that context may not be permanent. Strategies are important. Well-thought out strategies even more so, and flexible, well thought strategies that are ‘alive’ and that are active (and reiterative) are even more important. Of course, the people aspect is often (but not always important — again, that may depend on the context. and the art of ‘people” is far more nuances, as that art is NOT merely one-directional (downward), or even bi-directional (downward and upward) but fully spherical (360 is not enough, as that is but a slice through the sphere).

    I would also offer another bit of advice: mistakes WILL happen. How you treat people may be a savings grace when those mistakes turn your way.

  5. Benny February 17, 2020 3:36 am

    As an IP manager, the most time consuming part of the job is reading competitors patents and making sure R&D don’t infringe on them.. Realistically, receiving a letter from a competitor’s attorney after a product is released to market can wipe out years worth of profit, regardless of whether the subsequent action is invalidation, redesign, or license.

  6. Anon February 17, 2020 6:40 am

    Benny,

    May I suggest that you change your job? It appears that your sense of ‘drudgery’ has turned you into an anti-patentist Efficient Infringer who would rather not bother to respect the work of others (instead of leapfrogging them)

  7. angry dude February 17, 2020 8:19 am

    Benny @5

    Dude,

    On which planet do you live ?

    In USA all R&D people working for large corporate R&D outfits are “officially” instructed by their corporate legal counsel NOT to touch or God forbid read any patents at all…

    (Unofficially though they download and read whatever they can get their hands on using proxy servers…)

    Pecunia non olet

  8. ChrisW February 17, 2020 1:03 pm

    I want all my R&D people to read every patent document they can get their eyes on, for many reasons.

  9. Benny February 17, 2020 2:56 pm

    Anon, I explained in my comment why infringing is NOT efficient for a small to medium size company. Which is why it is important that our products do not infringe. A company with less than 100m p. a turnover can be brought to it’s’ knees by patent litigation. So cut out the “efficient infringer ” b. s, I’m tired of it.
    Angry – we make sure all the engineers see the competitor’s applications as soon as they are published. The reason we do ithis is something known as common sense.

  10. Anon February 17, 2020 5:05 pm

    So cut out the “efficient infringer ” b. s, I’m tired of it.

    I care not at all whether you tire of it — you quack like a duck, waddle like a duck and quite frankly act like a duck, so the comments that you are “duck-like” FIT whether or not you ‘tire of them.’

    Quite frankly, I tire of your anti-patent mindset.

    There is of course a mutually beneficial path that YOU can take.

  11. Benny February 17, 2020 5:25 pm

    Anon,
    Quack.

  12. Anon February 17, 2020 7:42 pm

    Benny,

    I suppose that you thought that your last response was clever.

    Simply too clever by half. – I leave it up to you to figure out why.

  13. angry dude February 17, 2020 10:41 pm

    Benny is in Israel

    He has no say in US patent debate whether or not his company holds US patents

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