Out of Focus

I have productive and enlightening conversations with other IP practitioners every day. The tone of many conversations is one of general dissatisfaction with the state of our industry. There is often a feeling of “how did we get here?” or “where is all the business?” I started asking a different question of nearly everyone I have spoken with over the last several months, “did we do this to ourselves?” The answer is often, “perhaps we did,” but how?

In the Intellectual Property business, we have a huge number of stakeholders, including IP owners (both small and large), attorneys (litigation and prosecution), and service providers (commonly referred to as Subject Matter Experts or SME’s) all working together in a range of capacities. What we don’t have is an understanding of how we can work together in a truly effective manner. SME’s or IP consultants, in particular, are in constant competition with one another, often trying to get any business possible. This comes at the cost of commoditizing very specialized skills and occasionally (maybe more often than anyone would readily admit) providing less than optimal results for other IP stakeholders.

SMEs also do a considerable amount of work at the direction of IP attorneys. In many of those situations, the work is purely task-oriented, and the “big picture” or end goal is not readily shared with the SME. While this works perfectly in many scenarios, there is often an opportunity cost. If an expert does not fully understand the end goal, valuable insight or information may be completely overlooked. This comes at the cost of redundant work; not to mention delays in schedule or achieving the real end goal. I have always wondered why this happens. The most obvious answer is that the law firm probably doesn’t want to miss out on completing other billable work.

Ineffective management of IP projects caused by a lack of freely (relatively) flowing information and service providers trying to do work that they aren’t completely capable of or qualified for ultimately hurts the IP owners, big and small alike. The situation I have described may result in the original goal of the IP owner, presumably either defending or monetizing IP that they have invested heavily in, not be accomplished in an advantageous manner. Ultimately, the attorneys and SMEs were probably paid for work that was completed (tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars) and they have little or nothing to show for it. The next question is, who is responsible for the failure? Typically, the person at the bottom of the hill is the “fall guy.” This happens even when they were merely completing the task specifically asked of them, without necessarily knowing what the end goal was. This can be prevented.

Service providers in the IP business are conditioned to often get business by whatever means necessary. If a company is not profitable, they can’t continue–simple economics. Businesses fail every day, especially in the IP industry. I am suggesting that if we as an industry work together to figure out what we (companies or individuals) are each the absolute best at and then not just focus on that but let our prospective clients and competitors know, we can grow and thrive together. We have the means, tools and opportunity to work together to define the path our industry is on and help guarantee our future success.

I believe that this “do whatever it takes” attitude caused the IP business to spiral out of control. Money became the only important consideration. Many companies have fallen victim to “stick-ups” by trolls. Many companies have provided unacceptable services and work products. Greed consumed the industry in ways. This allowed, and in ways forced governments to step in and do something, because the stakeholders in this industry were unable to “self-regulate” and examine what was happening around us. It’s time to take our industry back!

Once we are focused and collaborating, we can address the real issue facing our industry which is a very small subset of companies and lawmakers controlling the dialogue and deciding our futures. I would say that allowing what has happened over the last five years to continue will guarantee one thing, which is that there eventually there will be no business left to fight over.

Perhaps what I am suggesting is altruistic and many of you will think that it just “can’t be done.” I have been involved in the IP industry since 2010, and I’ve listened to so many stories about the “good ol’ days” of IP. I am asking those of you that remember those days to join me, and so many others that weren’t in the business back in those days, to usher in a new era of IP management and innovation.


Written by: Ryan Likness