Given the current global volatility, how should IP strategies adapt?
To answer this question, it is important to assess what businesses are doing to adapt to the current environment and how this will affect IP strategies. We see many businesses accelerating the shift to e-commerce, for whom digital transformation strategies are the key drivers of change. Others are doubling down on their core services, stripping their business back to what they do best. We see some businesses driven entirely by a balance-sheet objective, reducing their exposure wherever possible in readiness for what is to come. At the other end of the scale are businesses less exposed to risk who may see the current environment as an opportunity to invest, scale and consolidate. How IP strategies adapt to enable businesses to win in these different scenarios is obviously the critical question. There are, however, three simple follow-up questions that we can ask that define whether the IP strategy can adapt successfully, regardless of the business context:
- Do those responsible for IP strategy understand the business context and have the data and information they need? This is about ensuring that people have the right knowledge.
- Do those responsible for IP strategy have the capability to effect change in the organisation and at the speed required? This is about capability, both at an individual and organisational level.
- Does the organisation have the necessary systems and processes in place to manage and measure the impact of any change to IP strategy? This is about ensuring things happen efficiently, effectively and in a sustainable way.
The best IP strategies address all three of these questions positively.
What do you see as the main challenges facing IP law firms in the current climate?
Paradoxically, the biggest challenge is an innovation one. I do not see enough innovation in the industry of IP practitioners despite the fact that our purpose is to enable clients to innovate and take risks. The current climate will only exacerbate that weakness. The roots of this problem lie in issues of culture, identity and structure. Our profession is entangled with and enabled by the law. We must somehow learn how to break free from that entanglement if we are to unlock real IP value for clients. I see businesses innovating in this direction, changing structures, elevating different non-legal capabilities and investing into disruptive technology solutions, which I applaud them for. Ultimately, that is what our clients need from us.
How do you manage expectations and maintain close working relationships with clients when the stakes are so high?
At times like this, it is crucial that we do not expect our people to operate with clients in one way only. Instead, we must be very open and transparent with clients about what we can and cannot do. This is a two-way communication process. It is equally critical that we ensure that our people are being incentivised and supported in a way that enables them to respond flexibly to clients’ needs. If incentives and targets do not align to the need for flexibility and agility when responding to client needs, then the relationship will soon deteriorate.
Which region do you see undergoing the most change in terms of IP systems and what can we learn from their experience?
The obvious answers to this question would be Europe with the arrival of the UPC, China’s experiment of implementing a global IP system with Chinese characteristics, or the deregulation and consolidation of providers taking place in Australasia and the United Kingdom. However, I am going to pick the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as the region we should all be learning from, from an IP perspective. It is a region of almost 700 million people and is forecast to grow at the highest rate of any major trading region over the next decade. It is rapidly evolving into an effective single trading bloc, with Singapore operating as a dynamic capital for both talent and finance. The efforts that local governments are undertaking to harmonise laws, raise standards of courts and drive best practice, particularly in areas such as IP finance, are progressing largely below the radar. Watch this space.
How would you encourage your clients to measure the success of their IP portfolio over the short, medium and long term?
The key measure is whether the IP portfolio enables the business to achieve its objectives. How to measure that is the main question, particularly in volatile times when business objectives change.
Luke Minford has been Rouse’s CEO since 2013. He previously led Rouse China, the largest business within the group. Since Mr Minford took charge, the business has expanded into new markets in Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa, and new service areas including consultancy and digital law. His experience, together with an upbringing in China, has informed his expertise, bridging the gap for business owners between the IP systems of the East and West.