Joff Wild

The final instalment of our reports on events in and surrounding this year's IP Business Congress:

The CIPO role – A debate on the motion “This house believes that the only way that chief IP officers can do their jobs as effectively as possible is to report directly to the CEO” produced what I thought was a surprising result, given that the exchanges took place in front of an IPBC crowd. When moderator Terry Ludlow of Chipworks called for the final vote, the team arguing against the motion - Arvin Patel, senior vice president worldwide IP and licensing at Rovi Corporation, and Micky Minhas, assistant general counsel, IP strategy at Microsoft – narrowly carried the day against the team arguing in favour, Joseph Cote, managing director of Navy Yard IP and Erin-Michael Gill, CIPO at MDB Capital. The former’s argument that CIPOs with a direct line into CEOs would potentially expose them to certain issues that for legal reasons they are best off not having knowledge of prevailed over the latter’s contention that a direct report is the only way in which a company can ensure it develops a fully integrated IP culture. At Microsoft, Minhas said, they are doing away with many of the titles containing the term “chief”. Among other things, that means no more “chief patent counsel” or “chief IP strategist”. 

Deals – Intel acquired around 2,200 patent assets last year, said head of licensing Pam Hays; that represented a big uptick on 2011’s activity. Deal volume is high, she stated, but generally not at big dollar values. For Google’s Amar Mehta quality not price is the big issue. The general buzz over the three days was that while the US remains the key jurisdiction for buying and selling patents, others are becoming more interesting – particularly Germany. In terms of monetisation strategy generally, Asian companies are now beginning to get it and are showing a lot more interest than the Europeans. We are in danger of being left behind.      

Value creation – Every IP-literate company seems to have its own definition of this; no two strategies for creating it are the same. In the CIPO masterclass plenary, Peter Spours, TomTom’s Chief IP Strategist, explained how his company’s main concern as a small start-up had been getting its product to market. But an IPO brought a slew of patent attacks from competitors and NPEs, forcing the company to rethink its approach to IP and how it could be used to add value to the business. “We began to ask ourselves: How do we prevent attack? How do we keep royalties [that we are paying] low? How do we get that impact on profits?” At Nokia, IP is seen as an enabler of participation in standards, as well as a potential source of revenue through licensing or sale. “IP is an asset like any other,” Nokia CIPO Paul Melin said. “When we view that we are best placed to do so, we will license that asset. But if we recognise that someone else is better placed to realise its value, we will divest it.” Kodak uses its patents to assert its rights and ensure a return on its longstanding R&D investment, with the company’s CIPO Timothy Lynch telling delegates that “litigation is definitely a tool [Kodak uses] for licensing”. On the other hand, Dennis Skarvan, Head of Worldwide IP Practice Group at Caterpillar, defined IP monetisation not in terms of transacting rights, but rather as using IP to enhance and expand the company’s product and service offerings – ie, “providing a product that the market wants to buy”. For Bruce Schelkopf at Ingersoll Rand the challenge is different: although his company is an old one it is only recently that it has begin to be interested in IP. Now the CEO has stated that value creation is to be taken to a new level. Schelkopf’s job is to work out how and then to deliver. No pressure there then!

Anti-trust – Competition authorities should be careful what they wish for. As Nokia’s Paul Melin commented, if they push too far it will become difficult for companies to justify contributing patents to standards. Where would that leave the consumer interests that the regulators are supposed to protect?

Invention – Telling comments by Michael Cima, the David H Koch Professor of Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who received a patent covering a 3D printer, the first that was actually called by that name, back in 1993. It took 20 year to get 3D printing to where it is today, he said, but people think it is an overnight sensation. “We had a vision for how 3D printing would be used and it turns out we were completely wrong,” Cima stated.  Until you put an invention into the hands of users you do not know what is going to happen with it. As for what technologies will be bubbling up over the coming years, rising healthcare costs mean that diagnostics and keeping people healthy so that they do not need drugs and treatments are big areas for R&D; other macro-economic trends are driving new energy, water and communications-related R&D.  For those on the cutting edge of technology, the panellists on our Tomorrow’s IP plenary said, IP is a tool, not an end in itself. It sounds obvious, but it is something that all of us in our bubble may have a tendency to forget a bit too often.

Thank-you – To all attendees in Boston and to all those who followed events via our #IPBC13 Twitter feed, many thanks. A full report will be published in issue 61 of IAM, which comes out at the end of next month. See you in Singapore in November for IPBC Asia; and in Amsterdam in June 2014 for the next IPBC Global. But before that, it’s time for a lie down!