IP Strategist – What’s in a Name?

What is an  “IP strategist”? Ratings and “who’s”-lists are published indentifying who qualifies as an IP  strategist, notably IAM’s “IAM Strategy 250 – The World’s Leading IP Strategists.  Not clear however is what in fact a strategist does or what his (her) qualifications are necessary or common to make you an IP Strategist. So we did a quick round in our network in the IP community to form an idea of what we collectively would consider a good IP strategist.  What do we understand to be a good IP strategist? What is in fact an “IP Strategist”? The concept of strategy has been borrowed from the military and adapted for use in business.  The word “strategy” comes from the Greek strategia, meaning “generalship.” In the military, strategy often refers to maneuvering troops into position before the enemy is actually engaged. In this sense, strategy refers to the deployment of troops. Conceptually business strategy would be about deployment of business assets for a certain preconceived goal. In that sense “strategy” is the art of providing “direction and scope of an organization over the long-term, which achieves advantage for the organization through its configuration of resources within a challenging environment, to meet the needs of markets and to fulfill stakeholder expectations” (Johnson and Scholes  in “Exploring Corporate Strategy”).

How does that work in “intellectual property strategy”, so,  in other words, how do we characterize an “IP Strategist” as someone who successfully employs the art of IP strategy?

George Steiner, a professor of management and one of the founders of The California Management Review, is by many considered a key figure in the origins and development of strategic planning. In his book Strategic Planning (1997) one looks in vain for a definition of strategy, except in the notes at the end of his book. There he notes that strategy entered the management literature as “a way of referring to what one did to counter a competitor’s actual or predicted moves.” Steiner also points out in his notes that there is very little agreement as to the meaning of strategy in the business world. Some of the definitions in use to which Steiner pointed, include the following:

  • Strategy is that what top management does (with its IP) which is of great importance to the organization
  • Strategy refers to basic directional decisions, that is, to purposes and missions (of its current and future IP)
  • Strategy consists of the important actions necessary to realize these directions (with its IP)
  • Strategy answers the question: What should the organization be doing (with its IP)?
  • Strategy answers the question: What are the ends we seek (with our current and future IP) and how should we achieve them? [1]

So what does this mean for “IP strategy”? We have taken the liberty of misquoting Steiner by adding (in red) IP related issues to his bullets.  Doing so tells us in a few words what a good IP strategist should be able to achieve. In reality one finds a variety of thoughts what a good strategist is, what he can do. So many attorneys find themselves smart IP strategic thinkers when they advise their clients which strategy to follow in litigation. Other IP professionals think that “valuating” the IP of a client is helping him to make strategic choices. There are those who think that strategy has to do with telling which invention disclosure to patent and how to use the patents as a defensive freedom-to-operate tool. Or those that hold that IP strategy has to do with ways of growing your patent portfolio (quantity over quality) so as to give the organization the comfortable idea that they are “safe” against technology competition or can preserve market dominance. Or those who find that IP strategy has merely to do with using your IP to support growth.

Is this all wrong? No it is not. Is it complete? No, it is not. The truth is that a good strategist would have some of all of the above and more. Not very definitive, we agree, but someone who is able to combine all of the above to reach the Steiner goals as mentioned above.

[1] George Steiner, Strategic Planning (Simon & Schuster, 1997)