If recent experience has taught us anything it’s that agility and flexibility are fundamental to resilience. This is true across all sector verticals and business activities, not least including Intellectual Property and R&D departments who must now grasp the nettle to ensure that they can go on generating high quality innovation.
the escalation of human endeavour
There is a general socio-economic trend towards ever high levels of human activity, and a gradual shift where formally core, analogue activities are automated or rendered obsolete. The exponential evolution of technological advancement has rapidly sped up this process, but in some cases the solutions which have been developed have taken longer to embed in certain industries and business units, which have remained wedded to traditional ways of doing things (either for cultural, financial or regulatory reasons). But black swan events such as the coronavirus outbreak can be a catalyst for a sudden and wholesale shift in mentality and approach and rapid digital transformation. Those who are able to shift quickly position themselves well to emerge stronger post-crisis, and those who remain slow to adapt run the risk of becoming a casualty of the crisis.
the opportunity for ip departments
For enterprises which are dependent on human intellect – in innovation-heavy industries and those where human-capital is paramount – the direction of travel is clearly towards freeing up people to focus on the higher value, and minimising those processes which can be done cheaper, quicker and more smartly by technological solutions. This is not a journey to be feared. Indeed, the pandemic has highlighted the very significant benefits which can be attained by adopting lean, agile operations powered by technology.
For IP departments these benefits can broadly be defined by three questions which we are being asked every day by corporate enterprises.
- How can resilience be added at real pace?
Risk management is fundamental to IP. Any disruption to workflows brought about by external or internal disruption can be the difference between successfully commercialising an idea or seeing potential value lost. In particular, IP workflows often require a high level of technical comprehension and both internal (organisational) and external (jurisdictional, legal) knowledge.
There is a high degree of risk should the repository for that knowledge (one person or a small team) leave the business or be absent for any period of time, or if human error – which might be caused by stress, a lack of training or a lack of capacity – results in a loss of data integrity, a missed deadline or an incorrect filing. The risk has heightened in the context of coronavirus with the shift to remote working requiring enhanced cloud solutions, data security and flexible access to organisational knowledge remotely.
Resilient organisations are therefore increasingly leveraging external service providers to provide rapid access to scale and secure management IP processes, ensuring that workflows can continue uninterrupted in the face of disruption, and flexibly so that the taps can be turned on and off in line with economic conditions.
At our recent Ignite Online event, Melanie Carmosino – Director of IP Operations at Microsoft – noted that Microsoft were well positioned to work from home, leveraging cloud assets to make this transition smoother by having invested heavily in the infrastructure needed to support a hybrid workforce – the company benefitted greatly from having a streamlined ecosystem with little disruption to business.
- How can costs be controlled while maintaining quality?
In times of economic crisis, cost predictability and control is vital. People are, generally speaking, the largest cost centre for knowledge-intensive enterprises and one of the reasons why governments around the world were swift to implement wage subsidies or support packages for businesses facing financial distress. As processes become increasingly digitalised, the cost of not transforming in line with advancements significantly inflates, with new competitors emerging who are able to go to market faster and more profitably. By identifying those processes which a) are a significant drain on resource (time and management) internally and b) which have the potential to be automated or outsourced through partnering with a trusted third-party technology provider, enterprises can gain the upper hand. Improving efficiency, driving the cost of doing business down in difficult times, and building in flexibility to rapidly increase capacity should demand increase and without the cost of having to recruit or train internally. Particularly where providers are located in cost efficient jurisdictions, IP departments can see an immediate reduction in fixed costs while gaining access to quality and expertise at scale.
July Prithipalsingh, Manager, IP Operations at Dolby, has witnessed first-hand how an organisation can undergo this transformation in practice: “about 5 years ago we went paperless. In the beginning it was difficult for us, but this meant that moving rapidly to working from home was not a big issue. Knowing that Covid would have an impact on our workflow, we also applied to patent offices for digital mailboxes – making things run much more smoothly, with only the physical certificates now delayed. Even before the coronavirus brought us into lockdown, we were still seeing law firms taking home papers – which now more than ever does not really make sense. We still had 1% on paper in March, but came to the realisation that with secure systems and investment, paper copies are no longer needed.”
- How can people be empowered and supported to generate increased value?
People are the lifeblood of IP, they are the inventors and innovation generators, and the professional advisers who ensure great ideas are protected and turned into sources of real value. But often in IP, people are mired through a reliance on outdated, analogue tasks which drain their time, keep them from focusing on higher value activities and stymied career progression/satisfaction. This is a real issue. Enterprises are finding it increasingly difficult to motivate and retain people who are required to perform intensive but low-level tasks, and their organisational risk increases given the level of expertise required to perform such tasks. At the same time, businesses who need to achieve scale to manage growing corporate demand may well see ROI on large scale investments in additional recruitment and training, but in an economic downturn such as that caused by coronavirus this leverage is reversed, becoming a drain on resources. IP departments have seen through the experience of managing the coronavirus disruption that processes do not have to be managed in house, and that added levels of value can be achieved through working with a flexible outsourced team to augment internal resources.
The fundamental question, though, for IP departments is this.
Does it still make sense to devote internal resource to routine tasks and processes – such as, data entry into IP Management Systems or invoice management – which are either already efficiently productised or which will soon become part of the digitalised world economy which is emerging?
Where the level of commoditisation and automation is high, then businesses should be considering whether to continue to invest in developing and maintaining teams to perform those tasks internally and ensuring they don’t pass that resource cost on to high-performing individuals whose time, energy and intellect is far better spent elsewhere in creating value for the business.
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