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In-house counsel reveal how they build internal IP awareness

Intellectual property departments in patent-focused companies are driving greater integration of IP through implementing better communication and education mechanisms

Patent-focused businesses are pushing for better IP integration in their businesses by improving awareness of the importance on intangible assets, according to in-house sources.

The awareness push is being driven by a need to better protect the company's assets, mitigate risk, and generally establish IP consideration among staff for specific business-critical projects and day-to-day processes.

Sources say they are achieving heightened IP awareness by better communicating with business leaders, project heads and inventors, and educating them about the importance of IP.

“It is important that we have a vision for our IP and that everyone in the business is aware of it and can contribute towards it,” says the chief IP officer of an aerospace company. He adds that staff members each have other things to think about and it is up to his team to ensure IP is embedded into their thought processes.

Leader learning

Establishing a forum between department heads and business leaders is a vital component of a good IP awareness strategy. In-house sources say that is patent managers can communicate the importance of IP to top-level managers they can more easily get buy-in for IP integration into key strategies and day-to-day processes.

“It is important that we have a vision for our IP and that everyone in the business is aware of it and can contribute towards it”

The chief IP officer at an aerospace company says his department shares its visions and successes with top management through a dedicated IP committee. The committee meets regularly and includes the CEOs of the group’s main companies, the equity vice-presidents in charge of technical, legal and international affairs, and other important stakeholders.

“It is an excellent forum and the most important component in our integration strategy,” he says, adding that it is a particularly useful tool for large companies with multiple levels of management.

The head of IP at a global steel manufacturer says it is important to use these committees to demonstrate how patent protection has helped generate revenue or mitigate risk. He demonstrates these successes by measuring patent progress by key performance indicators, which are presented to chief technical officers and research and development heads in quarterly and annual reports.

The aerospace chief IP officer adds that it is also important to communicate such successes and developments directly to the people creating IP, which the IP department can do through internal newsletters and posts on the company’s website.

The IP director at a chemicals company adds that his company has a similar committee, and that it is also a good forum to talk about IP developments and how departments can better align their tactics and projects.

“You can keep stakeholders up to date, emphasise the good work that the department has been doing and, most importantly, talk about how you can work together in the future,” he says.

He adds that managers and leaders can coordinate their strategies around projects such as building up patent portfolios in markets or jurisdictions where the business plans to launch its products or services in the next five to 10 years.

The aerospace chief IP officer says the committee can also be used to help co-ordinate strategies on larger, one-off projects, such as a merger or acquisition. The IP department can work with the project leader to conduct due diligence on the new business’s portfolio and look at how to best transfer those rights.

Employee insight

Getting top management and inventor buy-in for IP integration will also help patent managers better spread IP awareness among employees.

The IP director for a food tech company says one of her main challenges has been getting non-IP employees to understand what is potentially patentable. She says that because the company’s inventors are so skilled in their particular field, they assume that most of what they create is obvious.

“[The IP committee] is an excellent forum and the most important component in our integration strategy”

“We have to remind them that while the invention might seem obvious to them, it might not to others skilled in the field. It is all about teaching them and making them aware that anything they do might be patentable.”

The vice-president of IP at a biotechnology company shares this challenge, and adds this assumption can lead to innovation leakage if inventors unwittingly talk about their latest discovery with counterparts, at conferences or in journals.

She adds that the company regularly engages with its scientists so that they understand the value of IP and that early disclosure of innovations cannot be permitted.

“We make sure we educate them so they understand it is not acceptable to chat about their latest innovations in the lunch queue at a conference because it may lead to IP leakage,” she says. “We try to employ the carrot rather than the stick – creating awareness is a process of collaboration rather than lecture.”

The business has implemented solutions to help in this process, including a public disclosure requests system that is used to clarify whether a project can be spoken about openly or whether it should be kept confidential while the patent department works to protect it.

The biotech vice-president adds that this sort of communication is also important for IP harvesting. She says having IP experts sitting in the project teams, influencing decisions and constantly educating inventors means the company can identify more opportunities for patent protection.

“This works particularly well in a small company such as ours,” she says. “I used to work in big pharma in a situation where I would dial in once a month with the project team and wait for scientists to tell the team when they’d invented something, so we were probably missing 90% of the things we could have been protecting.”

The global steel company head of IP says that a good way to establish IP awareness among inventors in large companies is to set up IP workshops, where inventors are asked to write down their ideas and are given the opportunity to draft them into a patent format.   

“We try to employ the carrot rather than the stick – creating awareness is a process of collaboration rather than lecture”

Heightened awareness of IP can also help businesses identify competitor infringement of the company’s patents. The food tech IP director points out that if inventors, strategists and marketers have a better understanding of IP and know what the business has protected recently, they can more easily identify and report potential infringements when they come across them.

IP thinking

The end goal of spreading IP awareness, of course, is to get staff to a point where IP is embedded into staff thought processes. The IPR manager of an abrasives company has successfully embedded IP considerations into the project processes.

“IP is now a part of everything we do, from product launches to when we start new projects,” he says.”

The vice-president of IP at a technology business adds that education is no longer a big concern for his company because most of its inventors have been with the business for 20 years and there is little left to teach them.

Of course, not all companies have such high retention levels and will need to keep awareness projects going strong. 

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