The question is brought into focus by the fact that there is an international league table of IP Strategists, which forms part of the IAM250 series. In its first year, this table comprised the members of the International IP Strategists Association, or INTIPSA.
Whether or not they are strategic, IP lawyers tend to be competitive, sceptical and analytical. This tugs them in different directions over a league table like this one. Should they try to join it, and claim kudos from belonging to such a rare and exclusive club, or should they point out the flaws in the concept of a group that is distinct from, but overlaps with, IP lawyers?
IP Strategists advise on commercial strategy in relation to IP assets. In view of the technical complexity of IP assets, it is not surprising that many, or most, IP Strategists are qualified lawyers or patent agents. The role of IP Strategist is usually combined with that of IP lawyer or agent.
Looked at analytically, it is difficult to pin down what makes someone an IP Strategist rather than a common-or-garden IP adviser, such as a lawyer or patent agent. There are currently no exams that one can pass to ‘qualify’ as an IP Strategist. Therefore it cannot be viewed as a separate profession. Instead, it seems to be a commercial badge or label that some IP advisers use to identify themself as part of the wealth-creating function of a company, as distinct from a traditional IP adviser who may be thought of as a cost-centre. Other IP advisers, who may perform a similar role, are content to describe themselves solely by their professional titles. IP Draughts considers that he falls into this category.
In this blog discussion, Jane Lambert, an IP barrister, quoted Moliere to good effect:
One of the character’s of Moliere’s play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is called Monsieur Jordain who was delighted to learn that he had always spoken [prose] but did not realize it. Likewise I have discovered through a very recent encounter with Jackie Hutter through “twitter” that I am also an IP strategist but never realized it. Not only that but members of my profession, the patent bar of England and Wales have been offering advice on IP strategy for hundreds of years.
In a discussion on a closed LinkedIn discussion group for members of CIPA, nearly a year ago, Matthew Dixon, a prominent IP Strategist, made this comment:
The key requirement seems to me to be able to speak the language of the boardroom in terms of the commercial aims of a business and the language of IP protection in terms of being able to implement a successful strategy that matches those aims and communicate it back to the board in an understandable way. Not every patent attorney can or wants to do that.
In many of the internet discussions that IP Draughts has seen on this subject, a number of patent agents point out that they don’t just mindlessly file patents, and they always look at the strategic aspects as well. Some other patent agents say that they perform whatever function they are instructed to perform. If the client wants them to focus on the technical aspects of filing, they will do so. If the client wants them to perform more of a strategic role, they will do this as well or instead.
And yet… IP Draughts’ sense is that many patent agents and IP lawyers have no real experience of looking at IP assets from a commercial perspective. “Strategic” is an elastic concept, which could be applied at the level of planning how to secure strong IP protection, or at the higher commercial level of planning how to make large profits. IP Draughts suspects that many IP advisers are more suited by training, aptitude and experience to the former type of strategic advice than the latter.
If IP Strategists bring value to commercial strategy discussions in relation to IP assets, they should be applauded for making their presence known. The difficulty for IP Draughts is knowing how to distinguish between the genuine article and the would-be expert who sees a new marketing angle for obtaining clients for his mundane IP services. This problem is exacerbated for IP Draughts by (a) the lack of a clear, measurable definition of IP Strategist, and (b) the strong element of awareness-raising and public relations activities by INTIPSA. These factors bring out IP Draughts’ prejudices like an unfortunate rash. Part of him wants to shout out that the emperor has no clothes, however unfair this comment may be.
And it is unfair. There is a skill-set that goes beyond the traditional role of the IP lawyer or agent, but is closely linked with it. IP Strategists are not trying to persuade IP Draughts, they are trying to persuade senior managers of commercial enterprises to involve specialist IP advisers in commercial strategy discussions. Good luck to them.