A lot of technical companies have a Research & Development (R&D) department which is responsible for inventing and developing their products. These departments are often also responsible for managing the Intellectual Property (IP). It is only logical for these techies to man the IP department as well. Or is it?
Well, actually it isn't. I am convinced that you are then bound to miss opportunities.
Applying for IP is not an aim in itself. IP is an instrument that helps the organisation achieve its goals. It involves several echelons of an organisation. You will miss opportunities if you do not allow all those echelons to contribute ideas on IP.
After all IP is not just about documenting inventions. It is about matching demand in the market with technical possibilities. It is about solving problems that will result in efficiency gains. It is about making your unique solution appealing to the market. It is about making profit. In short, it is about making strategic use of IP know-how.
It would therefore be unwise to assign all these responsibilities to a representative of the R&D department.
Ideal IP department = multi-disciplinary
As far as I am concerned the winning IP team is made up of a multi-disciplinary group of employees with knowledge of:
- the market à the Sales department
- the company's vision and strategy àa board member
- the company's existing technical innovations à someone from R&D
- commerce à a Marketer
Sales, the organisation's feelers
Representatives talk to customers on a daily basis and often hear what there is a demand for and see the latest developments at exhibitions. There are few employees who have a better insight into what the competition is doing.
A sales person can keep a close eye on whether your competitors are infringing your patents, or on what direction your competitor's product is going in. A wealth of information which you might want to put to good use as an IP team.
Board member, the helmsman
Patents are valuable, but at the same time cost the company money. When it comes to making choices, it is essential to have a vision of the future. What is the budget for the coming two years? Which patents can make us stand out from the competition? Which business units are less profitable and is it perhaps wise to let go of the patents they hold?
Foresight is the essence of management, including for the IP team. A board member who knows where the organisation is heading and who is decisive, is an important member of the IP team.
Marketer, who translates the technology to the customer
Even if your product is superior to that of your competitors, it is still no guarantee of success. After all, the benefits of your product only count if customers see them and recognize your product's added value.
Marketers translate a superior product into benefits for the customer. It is important for them to understand clearly what makes the product unique (and protected). Conversely, marketers often have a better understanding of the target group than R&D staff with a technical background. This can be inspirational for new inventions.
R&D staff, the driving force behind your innovation
Of course you cannot leave out innovation specialists because they know what distinctive innovations you already have, and are actively involved in the research. Without R&D your company is no more than a sales organisation and you will soon start to lose ground to your competitors.
So my advice for setting up an IP team is: get together, let the cross pollination do its work and pick the fruits of a properly organised IP management system. It will do your company the world of good!