The greater utilization of IP management software has undoubtedly made corporate IP departments and law firms more efficient, saving them time and money and increasing the productivity of internal teams. But that is just a foretaste of the potential benefits to be achieved as software becomes increasingly integrated across the IP lifecycle, enabling stronger collaboration amongst IP stakeholders.

Social networking and e-commerce have been adopted by modern society for the convenience and ease with which they make communication and simple transactions possible. This efficiency of communication is now taken for granted in our social lives – and raises our expectations that IT platforms can similarly simplify our professional lives. Our thoughts transform from “what if?” to “when”.

The world of intellectual property management is no different, and there are many opportunities across the IP lifecycle where such efficiencies can be achieved. However, as IP professionals become more technologically aware, their expectations and vision expand disproportionately. What might have been considered “nice to haves” are now “must haves”, putting pressure on IT departments and application vendors to keep pace with their customers’ ever-expanding wish lists.

The two areas where needs — and expectations — are greatest are around collaboration, enabling different parties to work together simply and more efficiently; and data aggregation, bringing together information from disparate systems to facilitate more informed decision-making.

While the technology is certainly available to make massive strides in both these areas, there are a number of limiting factors that bring the vision of a fully collaborative information management ecosystem down to earth – in particular, security and identity issues, data protection, and the state of readiness of various patent and trademark offices (PTOs) across the globe.

Talking the same language

In the past, efficiency-enabling IP software systems tended to be pieced together with various different tasks being handled by different platforms, none of which talked to each other. However, modern IP software is now being integrated across platforms, providing smoother and more efficient workflow, greater accessibility, and stronger collaboration and communication between stakeholders involved in the IP prosecution and management process.

As IP professionals grow accustomed to this, they are seeking even greater levels of interoperability. The market is moving beyond simple ‘Single Sign-On’ (SSO) types of application integration and is expecting a new level of sophistication. This will be delivered by applications that pass data back and forth based upon workflow requirements, enabling real-time data updates and alerting functionality. This moves the applications from being passive un-linked systems into a proactive and truly efficient collaborative IP platform, providing clear visibility of an organization’s IP portfolio and the status of its intellectual assets at any stage in the IP lifecycle.

The ideal IP management system enables organizations to build a collaborative network of idea generators, business decision makers and IP professionals — whether internal or external. It drives activities according to an individual organization’s strategic approach and business priorities to maximize productivity, while minimizing effort, cost and risk; and provides stakeholders across the organization with full transparency on ideas, activities, spend, value and risks to aid decision-making.

The system should also provide greater levels of secure access for internal and external invention communities via simple multi-lingual portals, allowing the drafting and publication of invention materials as well as stronger visibility of the content of their invention funnel across multiple business divisions. This helps streamline the invention management and IP prosecution process.

Ensuring data quality

With the growing recognition of the value of IP and the potential massive financial implications if things go wrong, the quality of the IP data in an organization’s IP management system is paramount. The industry is increasingly moving away from manual processing to automated data entry and verification. Industry bodies such as the USPTO and European Patent Office are also moving online, providing access to electronic transactions, both inbound and outbound.

The further integration of automated systems and platforms brings a number of significant benefits, including:

  • Increased data accuracy: Limiting non-electronic data transfer reduces the likelihood of data transposition that could occur when data is re-keyed manually in multiple disparate systems.
  • Improved timeliness and visibility of data: Time is a critical factor, especially when dealing with PTOs. By centralizing their external transactions, IP professionals in corporates and law firms are able to gain immediate access to an overview of all matters and their workflow status.
  • Better staff utilization: In many corporates and law firms, highly qualified resources are spending time on mundane data entry tasks. Freeing these employees of such tasks to spend time on higher value activities has double benefits in terms of productivity and reducing manual data input.
  • Electronic data verification: While automated workflow is highly beneficial, data acquired from third-party sources must be verified and ratified before it is incorporated into the master data set. Data verification services can highlight potential data conflicts and support the arbitration process.

Mobile access to data is also becoming increasingly important as new technologies provide greater levels of secure access to IP data when staff are out of the office. In a world where the technology-savvy expect an app for just about everything in their social lives, so they are expecting apps that make their working lives that much easier. For IP, apps can certainly lend themselves to a number of review and approval processes.

Achieving an integrated digital workflow is a function of demand and desire for change – and in some organizations, this is stronger than others. Stakeholders at all stages of the IP lifecycle must be challenging their contact points for improved interfaces, while technology vendors must ensure they are listening to their customers, understanding their challenges and working to meet their expectations, however great they may be.