What is IP leadership?

Recognising leaders in the IP world has always been a big part of what IAM does. Through profiles, interviews and our day-to-day coverage of the IP market, we have sought to shine a spotlight on those IP executives with the most groundbreaking strategies and innovative teams, the individuals whom the rest of the market wants to learn from and benchmark themselves against.

To that end we have named IP personalities of the year, the Asia IP Elite organisations and our annual Top 40 Market Makers. Over the years we have featured 13 individuals on the cover of IAM magazine – the first was Joe Beyers of Hewlett Packard, with the last being then-USPTO director Andrei Iancu. The IAM Patent 1000 has long been the definitive resource on the top private practice patent practitioners, while the IAM Strategy 300 was added to recognise the contributions of those in brokering, consultancy, finance, licensing and other transactional domains. In addition to these, every year the IP Hall of Fame honours a select few who have made the most enduring contributions to the development of IP law and practice.

This Special Report brings many of these longstanding features together for the first time. It is packed full of interviews with and insights from leaders across in-house roles and private practice from every corner of the world, collecting their perspectives on how they manage dynamic teams and deliver on market-leading strategies.

So what is IP leadership and what does it look like? No two top jobs in intellectual property look exactly the same but here are some of the qualities that we have found in the IP world’s best and brightest, right across industries and organisation types.

Subject-matter mastery

It almost goes without saying, but IP leaders need to execute the very highest standard of substantive work in patents, trade secrets and any other areas that fall within their responsibility. Even if they are not hands on with the most detail-oriented work of the department, the most successful executives remain sharp to the key legal and market issues, working hard to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to changes in practice.

Whether trained in the law, science, engineering, finance or business (all fields represented by the individuals profiled in this report), simply being a good practitioner of your craft is far from sufficient. Technical IP matters involve complex problems that cut across all of these domains, and a capable executive needs to pair their own personal expertise with a view of the wider context, while fearlessly digging in and getting a handle on the big issues.

Innovation led

Innovation is at the heart of what an IP function does in any organisation. Great IP leaders in corporates, law firms and service providers approach their business models similarly to how the best inventors and engineers – often people with whom they work on a daily basis – approach technical problems. There are plenty of talented and well-respected managers within organisations that pursue fairly conventional strategies, often for good reasons. But for those executives recognised as leaders not only of their own teams but of the market as a whole, it is often because of the ways in which they are able to affect the wider industry.

They may develop new business models or deal structures that make the space more efficient or that illustrate value-creation opportunities that other players can follow. Others completely change the agenda in how they operate, prompting other firms to see things differently. A market with such dynamic actors is not only one that grows and develops, but also one that attracts attention from the outside world, drawing in more talented people. It is one reason why the IP field across both high tech and life sciences has been so dynamic, with new strategies, services and even entirely new types of entity emerging all the time.

Achieving internal recognition

Just knowing a company’s size and industry sector does not tell you much about how it will approach intellectual property. One electronics company might talk up its IP portfolio regularly with investors, explaining the value adds to the business; another, similarly situated, might not say anything at all about intellectual property save for boilerplate warnings about legal risk. One automaker may have a chief IP officer who reports in to the CTO or CEO, while a direct competitor might maintain only a traditional patent department focused on filing. A surprising amount of the difference comes down to the efforts of determined individuals.

Those organisations that truly treat intellectual property as a business asset usually do so because from some point in the past and continuing to the present day, they have had IP managers who can clearly and convincingly make the case that their function represents not just a significant cost centre but a potential engine of value creation. It is not an easy task, but the most effective leaders within IP-owning firms have a gift for articulating the whys of IP strategy in a way that elevates their function’s prominence within the whole organisation.

Taking it to the public

Communicating IP value externally can be just as important. Some IP leaders are recognised as such because of the way that they are able to explain to investors, policymakers and the public at large the societal value of IP rights and how the IP system supports their organisation’s mission. With patents increasingly entering the public consciousness, this is as vital a task as ever.

At the same time, there is plenty of disagreement among IP stakeholders on specific policy questions. Making the case publicly for favoured improvements to the IP system can be an important component of IP leadership, not just within corporates and research organisations, but also among industry bodies, NGOs, private practice firms and service providers.

It is a people business

Good leaders foster the creation of great teams and make sure that every professional within the function is growing. If IP leaders need to be comfortable jumping between the legal, technical and business domains, they also must be able to manage teams that include individuals from all of these various disciplines. Like all management, it comes down to people and relationships. Two words that you will see over and over in the conversations that follow with senior IP leaders are ‘communication’ and ‘trust’.

You will also read that mentorship played key roles in the early encouragement of some of intellectual property’s most storied careers. Certain organisations become training grounds, producing professionals who go on to take top roles across the industry: leaders create these kinds of environments by inspiring and training the next generation of top IP professionals.

Championing diversity and inclusion

IP leaders understand and act on the importance of building diverse and inclusive teams. This is an acute challenge in the patent space: in the United States, the share of women among all inventors named on patents stood at just 12.9% in 2019, according to a USPTO report. There are similar issues when it comes to underrepresented minorities.

While the problem is well understood, progress remains slow. The top individuals in the market know that solving it is vital, not only because of the amount of innovative potential it could unlock, but also, quite simply, because it is the right thing to do. Several approaches are described in this Special Report and the further reading listed at its conclusion. For large corporations such as 3M, it is all about getting as much data as possible in order to understand where they are falling short and where progress is being made. Meanwhile, leading law firms such as Finnegan are working towards solutions by ensuring that their own leadership is diverse, while also broadening their horizons when it comes to recruitment.

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