Welcome to 2016! With New Year's merriment and good cheer in the rearview mirror, it is time to refresh your IP strategy. Regardless of when your fiscal year ends, now is an ideal time to take a fresh look. Since early January is typically less busy as everyone gets back to business, this is a good time to consider these New Year's Resolutions as you ensure that your plans for the year ahead are still aligned with your company's business strategy.
Reevaluate Your Company Position in Its Ecosystem
The business and legal landscape changes at a breathless pace, so staying abreast of new trends and being proactive are paramount. Your business is continually responding to new developments in your industry. Introduction of new disruptive products or technologies may derail one company's line of business while accelerating another's. Competitors today could be suppliers/customers tomorrow or vice versa. New entrants to a market over time become the incumbents. Incumbents can become new entrants into other markets. M&A activity is prevalent and consolidation or separation of businesses changes market dynamics. In-house counsel cannot afford to bury proverbial heads in the sand in response to these dynamics, only concentrating on current issues and reactively responding to unforeseen events. The more in-house lawyers can be informed about the realities of the company's business ecosystem and anticipate issues, the more executives will value your services and look to you as a “go to” resource to quickly address the latest challenge that the company is confronting.
Recalibrate Strategic Direction through Analysis
Further, you will want to evaluate your company's current direction for each product line, the company's fiscal health (whether positive/negative), geographic product revenue mix, and the like. Specific technologies or inventions once important to a company may have different value now. Patent litigation activity trends add unpredictability and should be further understood. The fluidity of such factors can significantly impact long-term business priorities, requiring periodic reevaluation of their influence on a company's business and related IP strategy. Consider creating a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, benchmarking how your patent portfolio fares in the current environment. Based on that assessment, you can recalibrate and make adjustments to your patent portfolio development, licensing, enforcement and marketing efforts to start 2016 off right.
In-house IP counsel is subject to budget constraints and accountability like any other legal department. Therefore, continuing to build greater efficiency into IP operations is a solid approach. Examine how efficient your team's operations were in 2015. Were your goals met or exceeded and what helped/hindered the process? Ask yourself what made your achievements successful and how you can aim higher in the future. Pinpoint areas for improvement like resourcing decisions including hiring/firing, outsourcing certain tactical operations, further automating processes to reduce tactical work, and increasing training of your team or clients. Set up a way to continuously track the IP portfolio's performance throughout 2016 by using internal systems and/or workflow automation software tools.
Reaffirm Your Budget
Looking back, how did you fare with 2015's budget? If you exceeded it, ask why. If you had money to spare, perhaps some neglected areas could have benefitted from more funding. Looking ahead, anticipate month-by-month how your budget priorities will change in 2016 and make adjustments to improve performance. Reaffirm that current budget allocations to outside counsel, legal service providers and internal resources still dovetail with key priorities. If operating on a fiscal year not aligned with the calendar year, a January check-in still provides the opportunity to confirm whether you’re on track to achieve both fiscal and substantive goals. Don't forget to also synch up with outside counsel regarding budget parameters, reminding them that budgets should be met and never exceeded without prior permission.
Synch Up with Your C-Suite
Meet with key business executives at your company to have a retrospective “synch up” discussion about 2015's business goals: were they accomplished or not, and why. This highlights and reinforces the previous year's accomplishments while also gauging whether your current trajectory is consistent with C-Suite understandings. Meeting with your C-Suite further develops your relationship with your clients, ensuring mutual value and understanding. Your interest in their priorities demonstrates that you appreciate the information and resources they can summon to help you.
Don't Forget About You
When you’re part of a corporation, it's easy to lose sight of your own personal goals. This is a great time to ask yourself whether you like the direction your career is going. If you’re not satisfied, consider ways to change course within your current position. It's not only important to look at your business, its IP strategy, and your team, but also to reassess whether you feel fulfilled personally and professionally. If not, now's the time to adjust your situation. Even if you’re happy with where you are heading, there is always opportunity for introspection and self-improvement to make you better at your current job. This is not suggesting that you should be looking for a new job if your career is not heading in the direction that you’d like. Rather see where there is opportunity for growth in your current position and determine what you do and don't like doing. Have an informal discussion with your manager regarding where you’d like your career to go. Career development should be an ongoing dialogue, not one that only happens once a year at your annual performance review.
Make Your Resolutions A Reality
Don't let January end without making your own New Year's IP Resolutions. Make sure your list addresses the challenges pressing upon your IP department and your company's executives. Be realistic in evaluating the successes and shortcomings of 2015 and endeavor to transcend them further still this year. Engage with senior executives—especially your CEO, CSO, CTO, CMO and CFO—to build rapport and establish objectives in keeping with their priorities as well as your own. Set goals for 2016 that are measurable and attainable, albeit with a stretch. And make sure you and your team make space for personal time to avoid burn-out. Imagine yourself next December looking back at 2016 after you’ve achieved your goals. Will you be pleased with the results? If you want the answer to be “yes”, then make your plan now and resolve to make 2016 a year of distinction.