Tuesday 28 July 2009

IP in Corporate Communication: Back to Basics

Attention has increasingly been paid as to how IP should be best communicated within an organization. Reduced to its most basic form, the issue is whether IP can be/should be/must be reframed into more general managerial terminology, or whether the terms and concepts are well-enough known to permit the language of IP to be free-standing within corporate communication.

Permit to me elaborate by presenting two exemples: the Direct and Indirect Approaches. The Direct Approach is taken from Subramaniam Vutha, “IP Savvy”. Vutha is an experienced Indian attorney with extensive corporate and high tech experience, including a stint in that mysterious (at least for me) position under Indian company law known as the Corporate Secretary. The Direct Approach goes something like is:

Business Strategy Manager (BSM): “I heard you speak to the management convention on the value of patents. I thought patents were ways to exclude or block rivals. But you said something different.

Prof IP Savvy: “I did say that the role of patents has changed dramatically, Earlier they were stored—and deployed only when needed—to blow up rival plans. Like ICBMs. Now they are used for all forms of co-operation as well.

BSM: Yes, you did mention patent pooling. What is that?

Prof IP Savvy: ….[I]t is only the ability to compete and block your rivals with your patents that gets you invited into a patent pool. Or that empowers you to make an attractive invitation to rivals for a patent pool.”

What is most notable about this discourse is that both the management and IP person use the language of IP as the common denominator. The role of the IP person is to clarify and sharpen the understanding of the business manager, but the assumption is that the business manager has a working knowledge of the operative IP concepts. This approach recognizes that more effective communication may require greater diversity in the language of managerial discourse, which in turn puts additional pressure on managers to gain at least a basic mastery of the IP lexicon.

The Direct Approach: A Schematic

The Indirect Approach can be seen from this excerpt based on Blaxill and Eckardt, “Putting the IAM Function at the Heart of Corporate Strategy”, IAM, July/August 2009. Blaxill and Eckhardt, former senior members at the Boston Consulting Group, are now managing partners at 3LP Advisors. Their comments can be seen as representing the managerial perspective of corporate communications. A portion of their hypothetical discussion can be summarized thus:

IP Language (“Patent/trade mark prosecution; filing fees”).

Management Language (“Asset Investment”)

IP Language (“Negative right/injunction”)

Management Language (“Market power”)

IP Language (“Licensing Expense”)

Management Language (“Cost of Goods of Sold”)

IP Language (“Infringement”)

Management Language (“Negotiating Leverage”)

The driver here are concepts taken from the business management world. It is presumed that the manager does not have the background to manipulate the IP terms without having those terms first translated into managerial language. The risk is that there will be something lost in the translation; the presumed advantage is that the manager is able to fit the IP concepts more easily into its overall managerial lexicon.

The Indirect Approach: Follow the Flow

The challenge in bringing IP to bear to management education is whether we should prefer the Direct or Indirect Approach, thereby including one approach in the classroom to the exclusion of the other, or rather fashion a curriculum that exposes the student to both approaches. In truth, however, the resolution to this question is currently more theoretical than practical, because the typical MBA program has not even begun to recognize the importance of the issue. As such, it’s time to move the issue from the theoretical to the practical, and then to move on the second-order question of which approach to prefer. For me, at least, it has become one of my central pedagogical activities.


Michael F. Martin said...

Nice post. Actually, I believe this "lost in translation" problem is one of a broader class. It's not just the translation from IP specialists to managers, but also from IP specialists to inventors, investors, customers, employees, and policymakers that needs to happen.

Once you realize that we're nested in these broader networks, I think the case for the indirect approach is greatly strengthened. We IP specialists need to learn a second language -- and the language of managers is more or less a lingua franca.

Ian Hartwell said...

Another problem that I've come across is that the same term may have different meanings in different fields. The management term "Market Power", for example, also appears to be used in the US patent statutes (e.g. 35 USC para 271) to mean something like “dominant position” in Art. 82 of the EC Treaty.

Michael F. Martin said...


I worry less (although I agree it's an issue) about multiple context-dependent definitions of terms in law because that's exactly the kind of problem that lawyers are trained to solve.