Recently, the staff of Community Blog Online sat down for a conversation with life sciences entrepreneur James Cullem regarding successful strategies for developing and managing a company’s intellectual property.
Community Blog Online: How does intellectual property (IP) fit into the overall mission of a start-up company?
James Cullem: Intellectual property (patents, trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights, in/out license rights, etc.) is a crucial strategic asset for most start-ups in the life sciences industry. A strong IP portfolio provides a competitive advantage in most technology-centric markets. Intelligent management of IP portfolios, including aligning IP activities with R&D and business development activities, will ensure focus and return-on-investment.
Community Blog Online: In your experience, what must a company keep in mind when considering intellectual property management?
James Cullem: I’m a bench researcher, who became a registered patent attorney (biotech sector) and senior manager, then eventually moved into the role of entrepreneur. By being directly responsible for IP asset development, management, adn enforcement, while simultaneously having to yield return-on-investment as a business priority, I’ve learned the importance of managing company IP assets in an efficient and effective manner.
Community Blog Online: Is a company’s existing management team in a position to monitor this process?
James Cullem: Even though a company’s owners may understand the difference between a patent and a trademark, the actual process of IP management is much more complex. Accordingly, it requires the oversight of an experience, IP attorney, who is often a registered patent attorney. This attorney typically will take on the role of Chief or General Counsel at a start-up.
Community Blog Online: Could you explain the different types of IP assets?
James Cullem: Absolutely. IP assets include the company’s portfolios of copyrights, trademarks and patents; those that are registered and issued as well as those that are pending. Product and technology licenses and alliances, collaborative partnerships and trade secrets are also considered IP assets. Essentially, any proprietary and/or legal right in and to certain technology and inventions that are not generally available to others and provide the company a competitive edge are considered part of its IP portfolio.
Community Blog Online: What do you mean when you refer to “IP strategy?”
James Cullem: The standard definition of an IP strategy is the company’s strategic program for developing, utilizing, managing, and enforcing all IP assets in a coordinated way that supports the vision and mission of the company and dovetails with its other strategic plans, including R&D, business development, and marketing.
Community Blog Online: When might IP strategy fail within an organization?
James Cullem: Within a company, corporate vision drives corporate missions, which in turn defines the strategic goals for each department. Marketing, business development and sales are all vital aspects of the system. Synergy and alignment is a necessary element of the company’s overall culture. If the IP strategy doesn’t fall in line with these other key components, and vice versa, then best outcomes will not be achieved.
Community Blog Online: Can you offer an example of this type of failure?
James Cullem: Devoting funds for patent protection for inventions that don’t fit within the company’s development strategy are typically wasteful, both in terms of time and money.
Community Blog Online: In your opinion, where do most start-up companies go off course in terms of IP strategy?
James Cullem: Although it might sound like an obvious problem, company management may not collaborate and communicate sufficiently to ensure that departmental activities and strategies (including IP) stay in alignment to support the overall vision and mission. Often, inexperienced management will narrowly think of attorney involvement and legal oversight as being a last step in business dealings and activities, when in fact both are crucial from the start.
Community Blog Online: Is there ever a risk of concentrating too much on IP strategy?
James Cullem: Typically, start-up companies will put too much emphasis on research and development activities at the expense of integration among the aforementioned departments, sales, marketing, IP strategy, so on and so forth. It is possible to over think IP strategy if a company has little-to-no organic technology development and inventive work happening. But, this will rarely be the case in most technology-centric market sectors where start-ups tend to flourish.
Community Blog Online: How does a new executive sidestep any potential issues?
James Cullem: It’s critical to always think synergistically. Consider the company’s various departmental activities and core objectives. Then keep a continuing eye on alignment between them to ensure best outcomes and organizational efficiency. A company’s IP strategy does not exist in a vacuum, after all. Rather, it is designed, implemented, and update to serve the overall vision and mission of the company.