Unilever benefits from web-based patent data management system

Corporate patent departments may want transition to a digital environment to manage portfolios.

When I arrived at Unilever in 2009, I found myself leading a patent group of close to 100 professionals worldwide, scattered in locations across the U.S., Europe and Asia. In the first six months of my tenure, I traveled extensively, visiting our offices across several continents, and gained a firsthand sense of the opportunities and challenges for our group. It was immediately clear to me that one of our biggest challenges would be to continue communicating effectively as we extended our global reach. We work with knowledge, and real-time access to our knowledge base is critical to doing our work effectively.

Our paper-based processes, as familiar as they were, were simply not going to be able to meet our needs as we moved our operations into the 21st century. Accordingly, one of our most pressing requirements was to implement an electronic document management system designed specifically for our patent portfolio. I understood that making this change would be transformative for the way we work. It would enable us to achieve new levels of collaboration that would enhance quality and promote greater efficiencies, consequently positioning us to respond more quickly to the demands of the business as we enter new markets.

Seeking a Solution

A general document management system (DMS) simply wasn’t going to do the job as a DMS wouldn’t provide a workflow for the patent attorneys.  Unilever’s  IT group  had planned to customize an enterprise content management system , specifically Microsoft SharePoint, to respond to our needs for the management of our patent files.  But  I was concerned,, as I knew that customizing SharePoint would take many years to implement, and it was unclear whether the resulting system would be robust enough to respond to changes in the law as well as our demands on the system. We also looked at Anaqua, but we would have had to move to a different document system and it was cost prohibitive.  What we needed was an IP-specific document management system, something that was built from the ground floor up to mimic the workflows of IP attorneys. 

Data fields in our docketing system, Computer Packages Inc. (CPi), were mapped over to Electronic File Room, so we did not have to re-enter all our case information. Also, First To File technical support set up our data to synchronize and transfer every two hours across the globe, so the information on the system consistently stays current. Our IT team needed to adjust the system to accommodate our European version of CPi, which organizes its graphical user interface differently.

Overall, the implementation process for First To File’s Electronic File Room required about six months and the total time commitment was a few months more, including the user training, international customizations and putting new hardware in place, which included mostly dual flat screen monitors so lawyers and staff could have more than one application viewable at a time. The system is transforming our way of working and the processes we are putting in place today will be more robust as a result.

At Unilever, we project that 80 percent of our growth in the next decade will come from the emerging and developing markets, for example, the BRICs, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, central Europe and Turkey. Having an electronic repository of our global portfolio with immediate access anywhere in the world will help us to provide the strong support that will be necessary in these countries.

The Shanghai Difference

Global Head of Patents, Chief Patent Counsel

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Matthew Goodwin

Matthew Goodwin is the global head of patents and chief patent counsel at Unilever.

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