This article originally appeared in Trademark Lawyer on May 1, 2017

In a series of articles on the Future of IP, our IP technology guru, Jon-James Kirtland, outlines some of the challenges and pressures that IP departments and the law firms that support them face.

The Interbrand survey of top global brands from 2015 listed Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and Amazon as five of the top ten global brands. The oldest company amongst them is Samsung at 78, while the average age of the other four is just 31. Contrast this with the remaining five of the top ten (Coca Cola, IBM, Toyota, GE and McDonalds) where the average brand age is 95. According to the survey, iconic global toy maker (founded in 1932) Lego’s brand is worth around a quarter of the value of 12 year old Facebook.

This demonstrates how quickly and radically globalisation and the digital economy has redefined brand value.  Many businesses are no longer afforded time to grow and develop, country by country, and region by region. Every business has the potential to become a global entity from day one simply by being on the internet.

It is hard to evaluate the impact of the digital era on business in general, and IP professionals are no different to thousands of other professionals grappling with new business models.  Has the IP industry moved as quickly as possible to respond and react to these new global realities? Or is this impossible due to the environment in which the IP industry operates? One thing is certain: protecting IP in more than 100 different jurisdictions, with increasingly complex legal regulation across different countries, increased risk of infringement, changing rules of engagement and a high cost of entry for companies into the IP protection process, makes the role more challenging than ever.

Back to basics – what is required?

Disruption of traditional businesses by technology has been the story of the past two decades.  From the collapse of the music industry; first to piracy and later to digital; to the challenges currently being faced by the taxi industry from disruptors like Uber, the world is doing business in a completely new way, driven by simplicity, accessibility and usability. It is a relevant time to take stock of the IP industry and see how this could be impacted in the future by technology.

Of course, nothing is ever this simple. Protecting an idea in more than one country immediately increases the number of experts required. For a global filing there could be hundreds of people involved. Each will communicate and invoice in different ways, creating an administrative nightmare.

The situation can be even more complex for law firms who are dealing with multiple different clients, multiple different working practices, across multiple different jurisdictions. This might even necessitate different teams in the same firm working in different ways to support clients, all with varying reporting expectations.  In these circumstances the chances of delivering a professional looking service are severely hampered by the scale, complexity and personalisation required to get things done.

New technologies, new opportunities

The last decade has seen the growth in a number of key technology trends, each of which can significantly streamline processes individually but, when combined, offers the opportunity to transform it. The growth of secure cloud computing has transformed the ability of businesses to carry out complex computational processes simply, and for a fraction of the cost that was previously available.  It has levelled the playing field – enabling smaller businesses to compete more effectively by accessing computing on demand.

The most advanced IP operations are already deploying technologies to generate deep insight from patent data, including (but not limited to) competitor filing activity, industry trends, and cost of filing versus value.  Products such as CPA Global’s Forecast and PatentScout® are already delivering this capability. 

A vision of the future of filings

Technology should be an enabler. It should empower someone to take control, not limit their ability to manage a role. In a world of smartphone Apps, technology has become synonymous with usability and empowerment. A vision of the future should be empowering for IP professionals, both in corporate IP departments and law firms. It should not threaten revenues but enhance them. It should simplify practices not complicate them.

Where next for IP management technology?  Download the whitepaper