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As any chef knows, it takes more than fresh ingredients and a great recipe to make a satisfying dish. The best-laid plans can fall apart if the chef 1) isn’t paying attention, 2) is paying too much attention, or 3) commits some entirely different fault. It’s the same way with an IP portfolio, as IBM Corp. knows too well. During the 1980s, after a punishing 13-year antitrust battle with the U.S. government, the company wasn’t paying attention to its IP treasure for fear of reviving an old war. But during the 1990s, the company got its groove back. Last year IBM received 3,454 new U.S. patents. But that’s not the important number. The company also pulled in more than $1.5 billion in licensing revenue. Other companies only pay attention to IP, believing that a patent is a no-risk lottery ticket to fortune, and don’t focus on their core business. Three executives profiled here — two in-house lawyers and one chief executive — are trying to walk the line between caring too much and not enough about their IP. Chiron Corp. is a company that many competitors say cares too much about its IP. The company aggressively collects royalties and licenses — nearly $200 million alone last year — on diagnostic tests and other procedures. When patents and public health collide, controversy is sure to follow. But chief patent counsel Robert Blackburn doesn’t back down from his tough stance on IP. James O’Shaughnessy is chief IP counsel for Rockwell Automation Inc., a manufacturer of products both high-tech and industrial. O’Shaughnessy’s job is to discover the gems hidden within the dispersed company and extract value. The toughest thing about his job is persuading business executives and engineers that if they aren’t part of the IP process, they are part of the problem. John Coleman is a soloist with a powerful backup band. Coleman loves to tinker and invent, all in the privacy of his Long Island, N.Y., home. Coleman’s companies, Plasma Physics Corp. and Solar Physics Corp., don’t make things; they license them. But Coleman probably wouldn’t have had much luck in his latest negotiations over semiconductors and flat-screen monitors without the help of New York’s Fish & Neave. There’s more than one way to make a succulent stew.

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