Friday, July 20, 2007

Are Chief IP Counsels really Chief IP Officers?

by Ron Carson
Regional Sales Director
Innovation Asset Group, Inc.

Joff Wild over at IAM Magazine has an interesting perspective on the need for a senior executive responsible for the entire lifecycle of IP in the enterprise. He describes the role of a Chief Intellectual Property Officer (CIPO) and why it is a necessary function.

This runs along a similar train of thought to our CFO’s post about the role of the CFO in enterprise IP portfolio management.

We are seeing an evolution – perhaps revolution. Not just in terms of the recognition of IP as the fundamentally core asset for businesses today; but also in terms of the way in which that IP is managed (I think “where” remains the same).

Initially, IP is managed out of the legal department. In a non-strategic mindset, IP management equates to docketing in some of these companies.

As companies embrace the strategic importance of IP and understand the need to move beyond simply docketing, there is an evolution of the role of the legal department. Much the way IT departments in corporate America evolved from a cost center and service provider to a strategic enabler of the business in the past couple of decades, legal departments are making a similar evolution today.

If you picture a pyramid similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and similar to the one described in “Edison in the Boardroom,” the bottom of the pyramid represents the least sophisticated IP companies, and the top of the pyramid the most sophisticated.

I have talked to many different companies in the past year: some companies are parked at the bottom of the IP management hierarchy, others companies occupy the pinnacle of the hierarchy and many other companies are spread out across all points in between.

Although I completely agree with idea of the CIPO, in practical terms, I think the Chief IP Counsel role is evolving with companies as they evolve up the IP management hierarchy. For example, companies at the bottom of the pyramid still view IP as a legal issue only. Their idea of IP management is to consolidate their portfolio with a single IP counsel firm to help manage costs. The person in charge of IP is either the General Counsel or Chief Patent Counsel.

At the pinnacle of the hierarchy, I have spoken with companies who have sophisticated tools and strategies to manage everything from innovation targets, portfolio mapping, portfolio optimization, and licensing. The IP strategy is tightly aligned to the business strategy, the costs of the portfolio are allocated along with the revenues. In these sophisticated environments, it is still the Chief IP Counsel in charge of IP. Instead of a patent attorney focused on docketing, the Chief IP Counsel in these companies has a much more strategic role in the corporation – effectively filling the role of the CIPO.

It would be great to get a discussion going on this topic. Where is your company on the IP management hierarchy? What role/position within your company maintains control over the IP portfolio and IP strategy?

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