Under pressure: streamlining operations in the IP business

The findings of a recent survey of inhouselegal departments and privatepractice law firms underline just howimportant it is to get the right peopleand processes in place for efficientIP management, writes Adam Jaffe ofThomson Reuters

IP-centric organisations are experiencing increased pressure to streamline IP management practices and align operations with overall business goals, while simultaneously building a focused and disciplined approach to everyday operations. The ultimate goal is to improve productivity, quality and efficiency, while still keeping in line with overall best practices.

Today, such organisations implement solutions tailored to specific IP business requirements by focusing on three key elements: people, processes and technology. The people in an organisation lead and manage the operations; processes guide the operations; and technology supports both. These components work in unison for maximum output and efficiency.

To measure the practices and efficiency of existing operations, the IP Management Consulting Group at Thomson Reuters recently conducted a survey of 4,000 people in corporate legal departments and law firms, with a focus on three main elements of operations: IP practice structure, operations challenges and industry trends. The survey results provide an in-depth picture of IP businesses and highlight potential areas for improvement.

Human capital

Survey responses confirmed that organising an effective and dynamic team, while abiding by appropriate ratios, is often an organisation’s most challenging task. Mergers, acquisitions, staff and budget cuts and operations across multiple locations can exacerbate the challenge.

The survey indicated that a majority of firms are satisfied with their quality of staff. For those that are not, the IP Management Consulting Group recommends that the business work to maximise and take full advantage of staff strengths. This is best done by determining the capabilities of team members and ensuring highly skilled resources are not wasted on remedial tasks. In short, that jobs are in line with industry standards in order to maximise effective workflow.

The output of IP staff is directly proportional to the leadership’s ability to match skills with business needs. It is therefore critical to keep them aligned. Implementing appropriate staff ratios is an important component to maintaining the balance of a team. Understanding how many supporting staff members are necessary per attorney is not just important in providing the highest possible level of client service, but is also essential to avoid compromising quality.

Quality and timeliness

The survey results also indicated that the highest level of dissatisfaction in law firms is around quality and timeliness. These components cannot be compromised when it comes to intellectual property. The creation and implementation of processes will be directly proportional to the success of an organisation. The impact of poor timeliness and quality, including wasted money, wasted resources and unmet deadlines, are detrimental to a practice. Implementing proven processes by making use of both technology and people gives a company a competitive edge in the market as well as improved productivity.

Successful processes are centralised and easily accessible to all members of the team through an intranet or in a centralised document management system. A thorough understanding of the business unit, including the priority of processes, challenges, potential solutions and improvements, is necessary to enhance team collaboration. The IP Management Consulting Group suggests documenting all information related to processes for future reference.

The biggest challenge

Technology is the last key resource to utilise in order to get the most out of an IP management team. Software system quality for portfolio management is subjective. It could be efficient for the user of the application, but not for the agenda of the recipient of information. Technology can help smooth the transition of doing more with less, with the proper access to the appropriate hardware.

The survey showed that technology is the biggest challenge within an IP department. Over half of the respondents rated their software quality as average or below average. IP organisations are increasingly embracing sophisticated technology that automates workflow, enhances collaboration and helps make smarter and faster business decisions. This is how technology is connected to people and processes. The technology is only as useful as the people behind it controlling the processes. Modern trends such as integrating with other corporate enterprise systems (including e-billing, accounting and records, and conflict systems) contribute to the success of teams with highly ranked quality software systems. Optimal processes rely on these and other more advanced capabilities to create a centralised and reliable knowledge-sharing infrastructure.

IP activities will continue to increase in the future. As the importance of intellectual property continues to grow, it is critical to become strategically adept in every area of operation. The complexity and volume of work is increasing while the number of staff is decreasing. As such, greater collaboration, smart decision-making and following risk management standards has become paramount in the IP community. The impact of skilled staff and a formal and standardised process methodology, coupled with reliable technology, can shift an organisation from a surviving enterprise to a thriving one.

Adam Jaffe is director of the IP Management Consulting Group at Thomson Reuters

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