Can you tell us about some of the biggest obstacles you have faced in your professional life – and how you have overcome them?
My first major challenge was working out how to transition from being a specialist – in my case a patent attorney – to getting wider experience and expertise in intellectual property. The solution was to build my career not by choosing better jobs, but by seeking out and working for the best IP leaders. Their knowledge and skill, and the challenges they brought, gave me the opportunity to grow and extend my own skills. With broadened abilities and clarified vision, next came persuading others to follow my approach, using what I had learned about individual and team dynamics. The key skill here is listening to others and understanding what they are looking for, and then showing them how they can get what they want with the path you are offering. A major application of this was when I was a member of the leadership team of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) Special IP Rights Committee in 1994. We were trying to bridge the gap between opposing groups that had been in conflict for almost five years over a new patent policy for ETSI. The solution was unexpected. Rather than trying to build consensus around a proposal from the chair, the successful approach was to give all the participants space to speak their mind, be heard and build their own consensus.
You have won acclaim as an expert witness on FRAND licensing issues. How do you convey complex technical concepts and arguments in a way that is clear to juries?
It is that old favourite: keep it simple. Reduce everything to straightforward, commonly understood concepts, and then keep it that way. People generally have an idea, a notion, of what it is to invent, create and develop something, while concepts like ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’ are widely understood. Indeed, the reason these concepts were originally chosen was because of their commonality and generality. Lawyers and even the judiciary can tie themselves in knots trying to convert these notions into tractable terms within an established legal framework, while juries can get the underlying idea more easily. Just keep it simple.
What impact do you expect developments such as AI to have on the wider IP landscape?
AI brings interesting times, particularly as it will come in many shades and flavours. So it is first important to avoid generalising AI as one thing. AI is already affecting the innovation of technology, but will have a much wider impact, including on IP services. There have already been structural changes in providing IP services driven by the economy of scale and disruptive business models, and the addition of AI-based IP services to the mix will add new layers of opportunity and complexity; will you have your patent drafted by an AI system or a human patent attorney, or will it be a bit of both? These new challenges will shape tomorrow’s leaders.
How have work practices been affected by changes in 2020, including the covid-19 pandemic?
Sudden-impact events tend to accelerate underlying structural change, releasing pent-up energy. In intellectual property this has meant a more rapid move towards networked, virtual IP services. Also, the fragmentation of larger, more traditional IP providers is beginning to accelerate, with individuals spinning off into clusters of expertise or interests without the binding ties of more traditional business structures.
In what ways do you expect IP governance, strategy and management to change over the next five years – and what can companies do to prepare?
Successful companies will be alert and agile. Some business strategies will need to adapt rapidly, while others will need patience and stability. Preparedness for change will be key, with the ability to shift energy and effort from efficiency to agility and back again as needed. This means building latent capabilities into all elements of IP GSM: have agile teams of professionals skilled in ways of working flexibly; experiment now and develop new IP management structures using disruptive developments like AI, which can be applied at scale when needed; and for IP strategy, always a business follower, time scales will shrink while challenges shift and change, so build flexibility and alacrity into IP strategies now, working ever closer with your C-suite colleagues.
Richard Buttrick is an independent consultant with extensive knowledge and experience of creating and exploiting intellectual property to maximise value, acquired over 40 years in various sectors, technologies and situations. Over the past decade, Mr Buttrick has focused on supporting small companies as they start to develop their approach to intellectual property, while also working as an expert witness in FRAND/SEP litigation around the world. He is a UK patent attorney, a European patent attorney and a member of the Licensing Executives Society.
Click here to see his IAM 300 2020 profile.