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An efficient back office is crucial to the success of any IP department or law firm. Ewa Mattsson and Laura Katjang of Patrix IP Helpware examine how advances in case management technology are changing the future of their profession.
Docketing is at the very heart of the IP management process. After a data error or a missed deadline there will be penalties to pay. Little wonder that many IP departments and law firms have been traditionally slow to adopt new technologies or automated processes, fearing that such ‘shortcuts’ might risk introducing error into this highly administrative and specialist process.
IP heads and docketing professionals are right to be risk-averse. However, the reality today is that not embracing the capabilities of IP management technology poses their organisations the bigger risk. This is particularly the case as back-office pressure and workloads continue to increase, while resources do not.
Processes, workflows and other back-office routines are put in place for a reason: most commonly, to check (and double-check) that rights are safely and securely docketed. What was necessary to ensure that ten or even five years ago is no longer the case today.
Just as electronic filing has made working lives easier for in-house IP departments, law firms, and the patent and trademark offices that offer it, so too have the automation tools that now come as standard in case management systems, such as Patricia.
Handling large volumes of sensitive and valuable data is demanding. However, technology and tools have evolved to help drive efficiencies and profitability, without compromising security or accuracy. This includes, for example; data exchanges with patent and trademark offices to facilitate automatic docketing and case validation; customisable workflows to automatically generate office actions or reminders to match the portfolio or client’s requirements; and configuration to allow for the fact that the formalities and timeframes for applying for IP rights can vary so drastically between countries.
‘Automation’ isn’t just about the way data is entered into the system, but also in the way that it is pulled out of the system, whether in terms of tailored reports or the generation of office actions, renewal reminders or invoicing.
"We need to take steps to ensure that we’re not just replicating our old paperbased ways of working with electronic equivalents."
The docketing professional still controls and validates the process, but they let the technology do the heavy lifting, easing their workload so they can focus on quantity and quality, rather than the time-consuming task of data entry.
The software is also able to capture the processes, knowledge and expertise that until now has only existed in professionals’ heads, in paper files or in sticky note reminders on their desks. This is an important safeguard for all businesses; after all, if an employee has to call in sick, that shouldn’t mean that IP rights are put at risk.
The culture of now
Technology has modernised the ways we all work and communicate. Our desire for immediate access to information and results can sit at odds with the speed with which IP registrations are obtained in many jurisdictions.
However, we need to take steps to ensure that we’re not just replicating our old paper-based ways of working with electronic equivalents: shuffling emails where we once shuffled paper files, for example. Here correspondence and process management tools within IP systems such as Patricia also have a role to play.
The right IP software should provide businesses and law firms with a competitive edge, by streamlining processes, introducing efficiencies and delivering the insight necessary to drive decision-making. The tools are there to make current practices better, not to replace people with computers; for example, helping IP professionals to ensure processes are consistent and data accurate, as well as ensuring the full IP life cycle is tracked and recorded. Indeed, it is this ability to see the whole picture of IP that is key to effective IP portfolio management.
For that to work, you need to be able to trust the data you hold in your systems, and to access it quickly and via whichever channel you prefer.
What’s stopping you from making the most of IP management technology? Do you lack the capacity in your IT team? Does your vendor not give you enough support? Are you stuck with a bunch of legacy systems that are not set up to talk to each other? Do you keep putting the upgrade off due to ‘more urgent’ deadlines?
When you’re snowed under with internal or client demands, it’s all too easy to keep putting off for tomorrow what you know you should be doing today.
Time to make a change
The task of keeping track of dates is the most important function of any IP support system, but businesses should be expecting something far beyond just diary information. Today’s IP management software provides sophisticated and valuable capabilities out of the box, such as digital file checks, direct email, powerful report generation, automated letter and form production, financial tracking and invoicing, cost estimation, time registration and electronic document handling, as well as client relationship management capabilities.
A good way to begin benchmarking your IP department or law firm in light of the available technology is to consider how many of these processes you still manage manually.
Just because your existing IP management systems and practices work, doesn’t mean they can’t be improved. With today’s pressure ‘to do more with less’, IP departments and their law firms simply won’t be able to drive efficiencies in back-office work if they’re still entering, validating or reporting on data manually.
At Patrix IP Helpware, we believe sharing best practice is the key to our clients’ future success. From how to better harness today’s IP tools and technologies, to workload and workflow management, we share experiences and preferred approaches in order to develop and drive forward industry best practices.
You can visit us at booth #801 in the Exhibition Hall at this year’s INTA Annual Meeting, or get in touch at email@example.com to find out more.
Ewa Mattsson is project leader at Patrix AB in Europe. She has worked in IP since 1985, first as an IP specialist with a patent firm, then as IP rights manager with an international corporation, and many years combined for Patrix IP Helpware as senior client advisor. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Katjang is project leader at Patrix IP Helpware in the US. She can be contacted at: email@example.com
Patrix IP, IP docketing, data error, technology, automation, case validation, software, legal firms, digital file checks, direct email, report generation