By CPA Global News ‑ November 19, 2019
This interview was first published on Above the Law. Read the original article.
Earlier this year, CPA Global partnered with Above the Law and The Blickstein Group to publish findings from the first-ever demographic study of the rapidly developing IP operations profession. In this conversation with CPA Global IP solutions experts Sam Wiley and Annya Dushine, Above the Law delved deeper into the study’s findings and into the evolution of the IP operations profession as a whole.
Between them, Sam and Annya bring extraordinarily deep background to their roles at CPA Global, combining experience with the U.S. Patent Office, corporate legal departments, technology vendors, various law firms, tech startups, consultancies, and more. This wide-ranging discussion touched on the basic goals of the burgeoning IP operations discipline, major challenges, future trends for IP Ops professionals, and even some insight for anyone considering the field. The following is condensed and edited for clarity.
On Aligning the Four Pillars of IP Operations
Sam Wiley: IP operations comprises the people, processes, technology, and data that allow for the successful execution of an IP strategy. So, if you’re a corporation that wants to defend your product lines from patent threats or make sure that you’re able to license out technology to business partners, none of that can happen without all four of these components operating in the background. For us, that is the core of IP operations.
Annya Dushine: A lot of organizations just don’t know where to start. They don’t know what their problems are, so they blame one problem. As you begin to peel back the layers and really understand operations, there’s more to the story. For example, a company might believe that their technology is broken, and decide that’s really the root of all the problems. Or maybe they look at the organizational structure and they say that’s what’s creating all of our challenges. Yet it is really all of those four pillars — people, processes, technology, and data — that really need to be properly aligned to improve the overall performance of IP operations. It’s important to understand where they complement each other, and they need to evolve together.
Trendspotting: Outsourcing Up
Annya: Increasingly, we’re noticing outsourced service teams. Organizations are starting to outsource a lot of their docketing, patent drafting, and back-office work, and they are realizing a lot of benefits, including the obvious cost savings. We are seeing best-practice sharing: making sure they have the right people with the right training and skillset to be able to manage the work. Thus, allowing in-house resources to focus on more substantive activities, more valuable tasks. So, we’re seeing a lot of organizations outsource a lot of the operational work.
Sam: A big part of our role in the solutions team is to help law firms and companies understand how to build workflows that don’t disrupt their business while taking advantage of the cost savings and efficiencies of outsourcing. The other side of that coin is probably automation. AI, machine learning, all of those things are going to be playing a more prominent role. We advise our clients to start thinking about these topics right now.
No Single Approach to Measuring Success
Sam: [Key performance indicators] are something the industry is sort of struggling with right now. The traditional KPIs were, on the one hand, simplistic, but on the other hand, easy to understand: the number of errors made, or missed deadlines, or some real basic cost savings. We’re really working with our clients to find more advanced KPIs, moving towards intermediate things like, “what were the hard dollars or man-hours saved by outsourcing or automation?” Then, there’s a more advanced stage, where we ask, “Did our patent quality go up, or are we more successful in our litigations?” I think that’s the kind of the Holy Grail of KPIs and we’re trying to help our clients get to that point.
Annya: No approach is one-size-fits-all because it depends on the organization’s priorities or challenges. Some actually believe staff retention might be a really crucial metric for them as opposed to data quality or innovation efforts.
I spent two days with a big — enormous — plumbing company. And we talked about metrics, and the head of their IP group actually mentioned, “We want to make sure our staff remain happy. This is a family-owned business. This is really important to us.” Obviously, they’re looking at products and tying those back into innovation efforts and how much they’re spending, but at the same time they want to keep their employees happy. And they want to make sure that they retain their staff and that’s a measurement of success for them.
Sam: For some law firms and other organizations, it’s not going to make sense to have those extremely advanced metrics. They need to get started somewhere and there are different maturity stages that different organizations are in where it simply makes more sense to track simpler KPIs. But I think overall the trend is going to be toward more meaningful data points and not necessarily just tracking basic information.
On how IP Ops Careers Define Themselves
Sam: I think we need to do a better job of understanding what the core traits of a successful IP ops leader are. Once we do that, more people from diverse educational or career backgrounds will be moving up through the ranks. The same thing applies to the number of women in the field. As a profession, the majority of the people who are in the rank-and-file are women. We should see that leading into the management as well.
I think if we were more realistic about what really makes a great IP ops person, I think we will see more of those paraprofessionals and finance people, and non-JDs, and non-engineers. They’ll be moving up to the manager roles because we’ll be a little more realistic about what the important skill sets are.
Annya: I started in a law firm setting, then I went to corporate, then consulting. Now I work for CPA Global, a vendor. Don’t be afraid to sort of jump around. Spend some time at the IP boutique or at a law firm where you’re going to get really disciplined training. Then go into a big corporation, or maybe work for an IP vendor. Get that exposure to different business models on different practices because that really will help gain experience, knowledge, make connections in the industry, and then really help you to figure out where you’re happiest.
Sam: If you find yourself in IP ops, it’s typically after you’ve tried a couple other things. I’ve noticed common traits of people who seem to really succeed. That kind of person with a lot of attention to detail, who really cares about workmanship. A really good IP ops person is almost like a tradesperson — a really good woodworker. They just won’t go home until the data’s just right.
As IP operations careers gain prominence industry-wide, so does the role of IP operations across organizations everywhere. Download the first-ever demographic study of the rapidly developing IP operations profession, created in partnership between CPA Global, Above the Law, and The Blickstein Group.