Friday, 20 May 2016

Rating risks in intellectual property: a choice dish on the law firm menu?

This weblog has on many occasions in the past year mentioned the need to handle risk.  This is a message for everyone working in the intellectual property sector. Investors risk their cash, innovators their time and knowledge.  Competitors risk infringing. Customers risk purchasing products and services that are rapidly heading for obsolescence.  Regulators risk making the wrong call on public health and environmental issues, and so on.

Risks must be taken, but they need not be taken without first engaging in an exercise of assessing them.  In this assessment, real data can be analysed in gross terms and in individual detail. If the exercise is a predictive one, then some heavy maths and probability theory may come into the equation too.  While many ventures have succeeded on the basis of intuited risk assessments, a larger number have foundered.  

In a piece recently posted to LinkedIn Pulse, here, our occasional contributor Donal O'Connell (Chawton Innovation Services) has written a constructive and broadly-pitched "Guidance for Legal & IP Firms wishing to provide a service offering in the area of IP risk management".  Coming from a corporate background with Nokia, Donal is well equipped to give a client-oriented slant to his advice to private practitioners.  This factor should vest an extra layer of interest and value in his words to legal practices seeking to supply risk analysis services to businesses that do not have their own in-house analytics facility. It also offers the expectation that the time will come when IP practices feature IP risk assessment as a regular dish on their menu of services for their clients.

Donal's bottom line is that the establishment of IP risk management services does not require a heavy investment and, if handled properly, will enable the firm to develop a deeper relationship with the corporate client, establishing a layer of trust that will attract further work.  

Is this assessment correct?  While much IP-related data is freely available and computer-driven IP analytics need not be dear, the real cost lies in training and explaining.  The sort of IP risk-related work that Donal considers is something that lies outside the scope of professional training of the average IP lawyer, as does the sort of management regime that he postulates.  Then there is the cost of communicating the deeper risk assessment message to clients in such a way as to enable them to understand it and share it in turn with their colleagues -- and this may be subject to several iterations as the gestation of a proposed project may embrace a variety of key personnel changes at both ends of the law firm-client relationship.

It is good to see consultants and experts like Donal thinking along the lines articulated in his article -- but it may be a good while before IP firms regularly offer these sort of services to clients on anything other than a loss-leader basis.

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