Joff Wild

I have received quite a few comments about the CIPO piece I ran on the blog several days back (a couple of which you can find at the end of the entry). A few people have said that there are plenty of CIPOs out there, they are just getting called other names, such as senior IP counsel, for example. But I am not so sure.

The point about the CIPO is that he or she has full responsibility for all aspects of the management of the IP portfolio inside a company. They sit in early when M&A is being discussed, when tax plans are being put together, when corporate finance is an issue, and so on; and they have the ability to make or break deals and strategies in all areas. In short, their yes or no has an impact on the direction a company decides to take if the company’s IP is an issue in any way. Obviously, they cannot over-rule a board of directors or a CEO, but they do have full access to such people, who have to weight up very carefully what they are told before putting a plan into action. Hence the skill set outlined in that previous blog.

Why are CIPOs necessary? Basically because IP is now such an important asset inside most large corporations; but one that cuts across so many areas – marketing, R&D, tax, corporate finance, operations, technology etc - that its value can be dissipated because: 1. those making decisions about it do not understand it properly; and 2. because there is no co-ordination in the way that it is managed. The CIPO is a person who has a deep understanding of IP in all its forms and facets, as well as all its potential, and whose job is to bring everything together to ensure that the company’s IP is worth as much as possible.

The problem with creating the CIPO role is that it is difficult to find people that are qualified to do it. But, perhaps more important, making such an appointment means that others at the top of the corporation have to give away some of their own powers and responsibilities – something that few are willing to do without a fight (I know personally of at least three companies where this has been a huge problem resolved only with intervention from the very highest level). However, as more companies overcome these challenges, the CIPO role is bound to become more mainstream and it will be those that do not have such a position that will begin to look out of touch with business reality.

And wouldn’t you just know it; after I identified him as one of the few whose responsibilies come close to those of the photo-kit CIPO (though they do not replicate them), IBM’s John Kelly goes and gets himself promoted. He is now senior VP for Research, only the sixth person to hold this post since Big Blue was founded. I did check, though, and Kelly has retained IP as a core part of his new role. And if IBM gives IP responsibility to someone so senior, shouldn’t other companies too?