Joff Wild

To understand the impact that Ruud Peters has had on Philips during his 13 years as the company’s chief IP officer you only had to be in Eindhoven last Friday for the event organised to mark his retirement from the role. Not only were members of Peters’ IP and Standards team well represented, but also in attendance were Jim Andrew, the company’s Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, and Frans van Houten, its CEO.  They were joined by a host CIPOs from other companies, as well as a wide range of market makers from across Europe, North America and Asia – many of whom had flown in especially to be there.

You just don’t get that turn-out unless you have made a lasting impact. And over the course of an afternoon symposium entitled “IP tomorrow”, as well as during the speeches made at the reception that followed, the extent of Peters’ achievements was made very clear.  Quite simply, he transformed the way in which one of Europe’s biggest companies thought about and engaged with intellectual property; while, at the same time, helping to build the IP eco-system we are all a part of and mentoring many of those who are today considered elite IP strategists.

For me, the most significant contribution to the day’s events was made by van Houten. It’s one thing hearing people inside the bubble talking fondly of Peters and about the remarkable job he has done, but it was quite another to hear it from the man who runs a company with over 120,000 employees and an annual turnover of more than $25 billion.

Van Houten was adamant he wanted to be there. “I would not have missed this for the world,” he stated, before turning to Peters and saying: “This is important, you are important.” Describing Peters as a visionary, a leader and someone prepared to make courageous decisions, van Houten explained that not only had he delivered billions of euros in direct revenues to Philips over the years, but had also created huge value beyond that by educating the entire company about the ways in which IP can be used to build competitive advantage and for helping to instil a commitment to what he described as “organisational capital”. Peters, he said, had shown the strategic advantages that a focus on IP and related areas can bring. “I am glad that you are opinionated and sometimes stubborn,” van Houten concluded. “When parts of the company were mediocre, you always stood strong and built real, world class performance – a flawless, perfect department.” I wonder how many CEOs of other companies would be happy to say such things about their heads of IP.

Like all world class operating company CIPOs, Peters never lost sight of his primary brief: the sustained delivery of strategic advantage through IP. Monetisation is nice, but it is not the be all and end all; in fact, what it should always be is the icing on the cake. The real meat of a corporate IP department is its ability to guarantee freedom to operate, the deals that it helps to enable, the markets it opens up, the pricing premiums it delivers and the disasters it prevents. No wonder, Philips has ensured that Peters will be staying on in a part-time capacity to work on special projects

While in Eindhoven I spoke briefly to Brian Hinman, who takes over from Peters at the start of next year. While he realises that he has big boots to fill, Hinman is also clearly excited about what lies ahead. He has been bequeathed a business unit that is central to Philips’ future plans; as such he has immediate access to the most senior executives in the company. There are tools he can use to measure and convey the value added that IP brings to Philips which are more sophisticated than he has come across anywhere else; and he has worked in leading IP positions at companies such as IBM, InterDigital and Verizon.  In short, Hinman has the opportunity to take forward and enhance what is already a world class operation. Should that happen - and why would it not? – this would be Peters’ most important legacy: the creation of something that does not need him to be there in order to thrive.