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Divide-and-Conquer Patent Research: A Revolutionary Strategy to Optimize Your Time and Increase Your Influence

Peter Vanderheyden

ONLINE, November 2001
Copyright © 2001 Information Today, Inc.


There's a revolution happening in business today. With the rise of global competition, business changes brought about by the Internet, recent changes in patent laws, and an increasing need for companies to account for and extract full value from intangible assets, companies are leveraging intellectual property (IP) like never before. Increasingly, IP is enabling companies to seize and protect markets, generate new revenue streams, gain competitive insights, and boost shareholder value.

We're in the midst of an IP revolution. If your company is embracing this change, and if you're like most IP information professionals, you're being deluged with requests for patent and other IP-related data. In fact, you're probably spending a lot more time than you'd like handling many of these requests. Your workdays may be filled with running miscellaneous searches for your clients, which limits the amount of time you can spend applying your skills to the projects that can most directly impact your company and your career.

At a time when businesses are increasingly shifting their focus to IP, you can leverage your skills to boost your visibility and strengthen your influence within the organization. What strategies can you use to analyze your workload, and segment your projects and clients in a way that helps your clients get the patent information they need, yet enables you to focus on the mission-critical jobs that fully utilize your abilities?


Specialists in IP information find that their skills are in growing demand from nearly all departments across the enterprise. R&D groups, for example, are requiring patent information to validate innovations, make decisions about buying or building technologies, and better understand competitors' plans. Legal departments are seeking information to pursue patent infringement litigation or protect the company itself from infringement. Finance groups are seeking patent information to identify revenue-generating licensing opportunities, perform due diligence for mergers and acquisitions, and validate investments. Even the HR department may be using the information in patents to identify leading scientists and engineers for strategic recruiting purposes.

With all of these groups and many more requiring patent information to function competitively, the workload and need for the IP specialist can easily become overwhelming. The myriad demands from the new uninitiated users of IP can ironically result in the IP specialist becoming an educated clerical worker rather than a skilled knowledge worker. Most of your time can become consumed with finding, downloading, and distributing patent documents to these new customers.

Indeed, you possess a host of skills and traits that colleagues across your organization need to leverage. You are, most likely, a legacy system expert, knowing how to most efficiently and cost-effectively use systems and databases to find IP information. You know how to package and present information. You're aware of a variety of sources of information and how each one can be best used. You have a historical perspective on IP information, understanding government classifications, codes, and international relationships. You are also, in all likelihood, a subject-matter expert in a critical area related to your company's core business; depending on your company's core competence, you may be a chemist, biologist, software developer, or other professional.


All of these skills and traits, no doubt, are important to being successful as an IP specialist. But the one that can best elevate your visibility and increase your impact on the organization is your ability to leverage your subject-matter expertise to gain meaningful insights from information. It is your ability to make sense of the confusing IP world in the context of your company's business, to distill it down to key messages and actions, advise on risks, and recommend business decisions that matter most to those in the executive suite.

How do you spend most of your time? Most IP information professionals perform three core tasks:


While the latter two, analyzing data and delivering results, provide the most value to a company, it is often the first task, gathering and distributing information, that consumes much of an IP information professional's time.

It is this imbalance of tactical and strategic activities that can hinder your ability to fully impact your company's initiatives and move up the corporate ladder. The solution, then, is to better align your activities with the value they generate.

You cannot eliminate completely, of course, the time you devote to gathering and distributing information. After all, you have the ability to find IP information like no one else in your company.

But you can reduce significantly the amount of time you spend on this activity. It requires relinquishing some of the tasks that are more clerical in nature. To do this most effectively, you need to segment your growing list of clients, determine a support plan for each segment, and apply your time to the projects that are most critical to your company.


Not all of your clients' requests for IP information are the same in terms of complexity or need for precise answers. To use the "needle in a haystack" analogy, some of your clients simply need to know where the hay field is, some need to know where the haystacks are in the field, and some need to know exactly where the needle is in the haystack. With each request that you get, you must determine the level of precision required by the client as well as his or her ability to find the information themselves when given the proper tools and education.

Your clients might be divided into four segments: General, business-specific, legal, and executive. Each group typically has distinct IP information needs.


The needs of those in the executive group require your full support.
With your clients segmented in this way, you will find that some of them can be enabled to meet their own needs, while others clearly require your full expertise and attention. Deciding what to do for each group and how to best leverage your real value is the key to developing a successful support strategy.

The needs of those in the general group are, for the most part, administrative. With a little education, you can offload a majority of the work for this group to the clients themselves. While you will still need to be involved with some of their projects, clients in this group can satisfy their IP information needs by using available Internet resources to conduct searches, download, and print patent documents.

Those in the business-specific and legal segments require more of your involvement, but can still take on some preliminary IP research tasks themselves. The needs of those in the executive group require your full support.

For all of the segments, except for the executives, you need to determine what each group can and can't do for themselves. You need to be able to draw up a framework that helps the clients understand what they can do for themselves (and how), and the projects with which they need you to get involved.

The key element to this strategy is enabling others to efficiently conduct IP research. This requires two primary things: The proper tools and education. Today, with the tremendous need for all business professionals to understand the IP that impacts their markets, Internet-based IP research tools designed for these users are available. So while you may be using one set of tools designed for advanced IP researchers such as yourself, your clients could be using IP research tools better suited for them from a cost and usability standpoint.


Your clients will likely require initial training to begin using these tools and understand the information they are finding and the conclusions they can draw. You can do this yourself, or you can partner with a vendor that provides the technology and training to implement such an IP research education program in your organization.

For many IP information professionals, the whole idea of enabling others to conduct IP research is daunting, as it requires relinquishing some control. But the long-term benefits of doing this–for both you and your company–can far outweigh the initial investment of your time and uneasiness about having your clients become more self-reliant.


By creating a high-trust environment in which IP information and technologies are shared among your colleagues, you enable faster and more consistent IP-related decision-making within your company. You also enable your company to more quickly generate innovations and increase the productivity and competitive edge of the entire enterprise.

At the same time, you can gain more influence and visibility within your organization. You gain greater rewards and enjoyment from your work, and are viewed as a mission-critical player.

Market trends are forcing all business professionals now to focus more and more on IP. For IP information professionals, this is an opportunity to be a change agent in the industry and your company, to be a revolutionary.

Peter Vanderheyden (peter@delphion.com) is a vice president of Delphion Inc., a provider of intellectual asset management services and solutions.

Comments? Email letters to the Editor at marydee@infotoday.com.

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Copyright © 2001, Information Today, Inc. All rights reserved.