An Innovation Expert Sticks Up for IP Lawyers!

IP lawyers and Open Innovation teams can make great teams.

Regular readers of this blog know that I strongly believe that IP lawyers can do a whole lot more to better serve the needs of innovation teams.  Much of the disconnect between what IP lawyers do and those of their innovation clients can be traced to misalignment of incentives, as well as a structural and cultural impediments that makes it difficult for legal and business experts to communicate and work well together.  Last week, along with my good friend Deb Mills-Scofield and Mike Riegsecker of Menasha Packaging, I co-led a workshop on this topic at the 2nd Annual Open Innovation Summit.  The workshop was well-attended, and the response was very positive.

Also, it appears that my message got through to at least one attendee, who is a prominent innovation consultant.  Keven McFarthing of Innovation Fixer wrote this post in which he asks open innovation professionals to not just look at their IP lawyer as an “extraneous irritant,” but instead as a member of the team.  Kevin also provides these recommendations:

  1. Ideally, make the lawyer a member of the formal team. If that can’t happen, treat them as if they are on the team.
  2. Don’t leave the final decision up to the lawyer. After all, legal risk is only one part of a project, there are risks associated with R&D, manufacturing etc. You should have a senior decision maker who decides what will happen based on ALL the inputs.
  3. When it all works out, say thank you. If it doesn’t work out, treat it as a collective setback for the team, not the individual who put their neck on the line to try to help the innovation succeed.

I agree with all of these, but I would add to the first one that innovation folks need to recognize that their colleagues in the law department–in particularly legal management–may not be accepting of lawyers being closely integrated into a business team due to a perception that they “are getting too close to the business.”  Innovation managers should be on the look out for signs that their lawyer might be effectively be getting “beaten up” for going out on a limb for the team.  Moreover, innovation professionals need to understand that by asking their IP lawyers to take risk for the sake of the business, the person who is going to suffer most if that risk plays out is the IP lawyer.  That is, if the innovation team embraces IP litigation risk and legal cost or litigation ensues, it is the IP lawyer who will experience the most “blowback.”  Innovation managers must therefore be willing to provide their IP lawyers with the resources–both by way of budget and staffing–if the innovation decision leads to undesirable legal results.  I provide more detail on this subject here.

It’s great to see innovation folks sticking up for IP lawyers!  Thanks, Kevin.