Introduction: technology beyond patents

In-house practitioners will have to face a paradox in the next decade: technology will become vital for almost every business across all industries and regions, but uncertainty over the place of patents will increase. In response to this, in-house patent practitioners will have to broaden their skills; managing data, assessing risk and developing strategies to be competitive using a variety of IP rights and other assets will become a greater part of their day-to-day work.

The growth of technologies based on artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things and automation will mean that virtually every company in the future will be a technology company and will need an IP strategy. This includes businesses in sectors such as consumer goods and clothing, where patent rights have not been important in the past. Moreover, dominant technologies will increasingly be developed in new regions – above all in Asia. New models of licensing, developing and sharing this technology will have to be developed and in-house patent practitioners will be at the forefront of this.

But how many of these practitioners will remain focused on patents in the traditional sense? There is currently much uncertainty about patent eligibility and scope in the United States – the world’s largest IP market – and this is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. Elsewhere in the world, enforcement remains a challenge and the next decade is likely to see patent owners experiment with litigation in more jurisdictions. In this environment, some companies will reduce their patent portfolios even as they invest more in R&D.

Instead, there will be more focus on other IP assets, such as trade secrets, copyright and above all data, as well as other means of maintaining market share, such as negotiating licences and contracts and controlling supply chains. New tools emerging from AI will play a central role in helping patent managers to identify, value and exploit their assets and those of their competitors. Used properly, these will make for a much more transparent and open marketplace for technology.

How optimistic are you about the future of your IP practice?

IP Futures Survey, May-September 2018

In-house patent practitioners will have to change how they work. They will also have to respond to changes in other parts of the IP business – including in IP offices, law firms, information service providers, corporate R&D departments and finance departments. Better data, more automation, demand for different skill sets, flexible working and diversity in the workplace: all these will change the shape of patent departments in the next decade. They will work very differently from the way they do today.


This report is one of a series published by IAM and its sister platform WTR looking at the future of intellectual property from a number of perspectives. These reports will initially cover patent and trademark work in law firms, in-house departments and service providers. Further reports looking at other parts of the IP ecosystem will be published in 2019.

The reports focus on how IP practice is likely to develop in the medium term, looking at issues such as technology, human resources, new business models and emerging markets. They are based on interviews with more than 50 highly experienced IP professionals operating in different parts of the IP market, conducted between May and September 2018, as well as other research and reading.

All those who took part in the interviews were also invited to complete an online questionnaire – the IP Futures Survey – and some of the results are shown in graphs in this report.

As the content of the reports is forward-looking, they should not be treated as legal advice and the overall conclusions may not reflect the views of all those who were interviewed.

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