AT&T chief sets sights on new US and world IP alliance
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AT&T chief sets sights on new US and world IP alliance


Scott Frank, CEO and president of AT&T Intellectual Property, says he wants to improve IP practices for the good of society by helping launch new organisations modelled on the Georgia Intellectual Property Alliance

When we think about innovation hubs, Georgia does not necessarily spring to mind. The US state is home to several large and undeniably innovative companies such as Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and Cox Enterprises – all based in Atlanta – and several top universities. And yet, it does not carry the same inventive and IP clout for some people as perhaps California’s Silicon Valley.

That mindset could disappear soon, however. Georgia is fast establishing itself as a leader in IP promotion, improvement and education thanks to the Georgia Intellectual Property Alliance (GIPA). The organisation has championed legislative improvement, helped teach IP to school and university students and even organised the creation of an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that will examine patent quality.

The alliance’s efforts are not stopping in Georgia. Scott Frank, CEO of AT&T Intellectual Property in Atlanta and a founder and president of GIPA, tells Patent Strategy that he and the organisation are looking to establish a US Intellectual Property Alliance and, eventually, a Global Intellectual Property Alliance.

These new organisations would be based on the GIPA model and seek to implement successful projects on a larger scale and set up new ones that could be better established on a national or international level.

He claims that nothing like GIPA has ever been set up before. While there are many private practice and/or corporate IP group associations out there, they are very focused on the interests of lawyers and businesses. He adds that there are none looking to promote and educate the general population on the value of IP for the good of society in the same way that GIPA does – and as future iterations of the organisation will do.

Frank says his position at AT&T has been very helpful in GIPA’s efforts to set up these new national and international organisations. “I manage GIPA in my spare time, and my job as CEO of AT&T Intellectual Property has led me to meet leaders around the country and the world, such as at the US-based Intellectual Property Owners Association.

“I know the leaders of most of these organisations, and while GIPA is perfecting its model, I’m speaking with them so that they may start their own chapters of the US IP Alliance.”

He adds that he is speaking to IP leaders in other parts of the world, including at WIPO and IP-focused businesses, to try to build bridges and lay the groundwork for the Global IP Alliance.

A model in the making

Although more than 15 years in the making, GIPA was only set up in 2017. Frank says the organisation started when he was an alumni of Georgia State University and his fellow GIPA executive board member Elizabeth Lester – who has previously spoken to Patent Strategy and is the associate general counsel at Equifax – was still a student there.

“The school already had a lot of successful grads and classes in IP, but we wanted to do something bigger,” says Frank.

“As such, we started the Georgia State IP Advisory Board, which had the task of meeting with students, administration, faculty and alumni to work out how to make the university a top IP school.”

“The last three USPTO heads I’ve spoken to said that their AI project would take forever to finish. But we, by comparison, are on the second version of ours.”

Scott Frank, AT&T

He says that it became the responsibility of Georgia State alumni to run the project and raise funds for it. The board went on to create fundraising programmes, mentor students, provide lectures and organise corporate IP visits. The board also established a Springposium, held every year to update IP lawyers on case law and legislative developments.

“We also created the IP Legends Awards where we recognised champions of IP – whether they be lawyers or citizens interested and invested in IP. Ted Turner, the American media proprietor, is a local celebrity and we gave him an award. Hank Aaron, the all-time baseball homerun king, also got the award because he has set up a valuable brand.

“The whole goal was to show the community how IP touches everyone.”

The board then began to work with the Georgia Institute of Technology, which did not have a law school but did have a superb engineering school, according to Frank. The organisation thus became much larger and more influential, and Frank and his colleagues decided that they could take their project to the next level with the establishment of GIPA.

Frank says that under this new umbrella, he often meets people at the Georgia governor’s office and the state’s Chamber of Commerce to tell them about the importance of IP to the knowledge economy and help drive changes in IP practise.

He hopes that this success can be replicated by national and global iterations of the alliance.

Future projects

One of the main projects GIPA is working on that Frank hopes can be rolled out to the alliance’s new national and international iterations is its AI patent quality search tool.

Frank argues that around half of the registered patents in the US should not be valid for one reason or another, and that businesses are often stifled by unfair patent-troll lawsuits as a result. The establishment of an AI-based prior art search tool, he says, would go a long way to getting rid of these bad patents.

“There are many reasons for the number of invalid patents on the register, but one big reason is prior art,” he says. “Why do we leave it to humans to search for prior art when you can have a machine-learning tool to look for said art around the world?

“We are trying to build something like that with our corporate partners, and when we build it we will give it away because we want everyone to use it and for all the bad patents to be weeded out.”

He adds that the organisation will give the technology away by putting it out on an open source forum and allowing other organisations to develop it further. GIPA is in a better position than the USPTO to develop such a tool, Frank says, because it is less bureaucratic and can make decisions faster.

“The last three USPTO heads I’ve spoken to said that their AI project would take forever to finish. But we, by comparison, are on the second version of ours.”

Another project GIPA is focusing on, and that its national iteration will probably spend time on as well, is pushing legislative reform to enable diagnostic tools to be more easily IP-protected. Frank points out that the US Supreme Court’s decision in Myriad on Section 101 (2013), as interpreted by the lower courts, has made patenting diagnostic tools very difficult.

“You cannot protect tools that test a woman’s DNA to check for the likelihood of her developing breast cancer, for example,” says Frank. “It is shocking, and yet nothing has been done.”

He adds that in response, GIPA has been helping to develop and push through better trade secret law that will more easily enable companies to protect their diagnostic inventions and thus spur innovation in that area.

These are just two initiatives that GIPA is looking to expand on at a US and global level – and, if successful, Georgia could well become one of the first places that springs to mind when people think about hubs of innovation.

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