Embracing technology is key to success for IP law firms
Intellectual property law firms are experts in innovation. They prosecute patents and trademarks covering leading edge technologies that we all enjoy in the products we buy and the services we use. IP firms’ clients innovate to outperform competitors, to differentiate their products or services, and to simplify business practices for flexible and efficient operations. Furthermore, as global demographics evolve into digital natives, expectations are increasing for access to continuously available information.
Ironically, many IP law firms are behind the curve when it comes to managing the innovation and delivery of their own services. With a globalized and increasingly competitive economy, it is more critical than ever that firms innovate their practice management, streamline the delivery of prosecution services, and provide continuous information delivery to clients. The engine that drives these capabilities is the IP Practice Management System (IPMS).
With the emergence of Big Data, IPMSs are adding new layers that provide insight and transparency into a world once obscured by the sheer volume and complexity of the patent prosecution process. This means continuous insight into your firm’s operations. It also enables forward-thinking firms to use their IPMSs, not only to improve efficiency, lower costs, reduce risk, and increase client satisfaction, but also to advise on winning portfolio management strategies.
Here are several key benefits firms expect when implementing a modern IPMS:
1. Improve data access and accuracy
The foundation of an IP law practice is data. There are three types of data generated by IPMSs. First is the data in invention disclosures and all the subsequent prosecution documents. As an application moves through patent prosecution, a second type of data, which is a natural artifact of prosecution workflows, tells you which applications are in each stage of prosecution. A third order of data is the meta-analysis associated with the first and second order data, such as average response times or percentage of first office action grants. All three types of data are fused with an analytics and reporting engine that gives easy-to-read insights for improvement of operational efficiencies. Analyzing data contained in and generated by an IPMS quantifies a firm’s relative strengths and weaknesses, guides better management decisions, and helps ensure higher quality of service to clients.
Improved data quality is another key advantage of an IPMS. Staff time is often wasted when double-checking data to maintain quality, especially when reporting requirements make servicing the client difficult to standardize. Some firms use traditional docketing systems for statutory deadline tracking, but their rules and reminders are not always considered reliable.
One result of a poor, or absent IPMS, is that process and deadline compliance frequently depends on one or just a few experienced staff, putting the firm at risk. Without a robust system in place, firms may have trouble verifying foreign associates’ compliance with changes in country laws. Implementing an IPMS improves accuracy by streamlining processes and defining rules to track risks and provide alerts. IPMSs provide exception reports that identify areas for data or process improvement.
2. Attorney empowerment
Given the nature of the prosecution process, attorneys become inundated with client communication and get bogged down by tedious, paper-based processes. IPMSs equip attorneys with efficient tools that automate much of the routine client communication, freeing up critical time in their schedules to attend to more high-value tasks.
The best IPMSs recognize that patents don’t happen in a vacuum, but rather are the result of carefully crafting claims around existing art from the public record. Getting near real-time data on not only who is citing your clients’ patents, but who is specifically being blocked, gives attorneys the information they need to advise on continuations, or which competitors may be building picket fences around their portfolios. An advanced IPMS gives attorneys the data they need to establish themselves as portfolio strategy experts, which generates respect and trust among existing clients, as well as an increased likelihood of attracting new ones.
3. Increase productivity and measure performance
Fixed-fee billing puts IP firms under pressure to do more in less time.
IPMSs automate low-margin, high-risk activities, and free up IP professionals to engage with clients at higher levels. Integrated document and email management allows firms to go paperless and reap the benefits of ubiquitous data access.
Robust IPMSs offer consistent workflow, which enforces standard procedures for consistent, predictable operations, with the added flexibility to cater to specific client and attorney needs.
By implementing a secure, web-based system with tools for related art, IDS management, and time and billing, IPMSs give staff the ability to work more efficiently, both inside the office and remotely.
IPMSs also help firms evaluate their practice across standardized quantitative metrics - identifying relative strengths and weaknesses compared to industry standards, best practices, and competitor performance.
Corporations now use a wealth of private and public data to evaluate their outside counsel. Quantifiable patent application metrics such as allowance rates, degree of claims amendment, number of office actions, pendency, frequency of RCEs, and appeal success rate, are just some of the metrics that can be gleaned from public data sources. Armed with these same data, IP firms can gauge their performance against competitors, and identify ways to elevate their practice metrics before their clients do.
4. Meet changing client needs
The legal IP world is constantly shifting with changes in client needs and compliance with applicable laws. IPMSs help firms keep pace with these evolving challenges by enhancing client engagement with integrated client services such as annuities services, thereby boosting the level of service the firm provides. Maintaining engagement helps protect firms from competitor encroachment.
Effective reporting has a dramatic impact on client perception. Attorneys using older systems often struggle to produce presentable reports for clients - even routine status updates. Data must often be pulled from disparate sources to compile reports - a process which can yield omissions and errors, and bring serious liability issues for the firm. IPMSs empower business users to develop their own reports and deliver tools for the IT team to build ever richer and more actionable dashboards and mobile apps, helping attorneys to meet their clients’ changing requirements and priorities.
5. Greater security
Organizing, managing and securing IP assets is vital to ensure trust and positive client relationships. An IPMS not only provides a central location for IP assets, but also securely stores and categorizes the assets. A unified platform also improves a firm’s information security posture by shrinking
the “attack surface area” of the stored intellectual property.
IPMSs reduce process steps, unmanaged emails, data stores and file servers, which gives IT managers peace of mind that they have a lower likelihood of exploitation. Cloud-based systems give the firm the additional benefit of having the entire platform managed in a secure, audited and compliant data center.
IPMSs help firms focus on activities that are more profitable. Dashboards and easily navigable tools provide quick insights and spot areas that require improvement. Moreover, an advanced IPMS streamlines operations that may have wasted unnecessary time in the past.
By repurposing time spent on mundane administrative activities, firms increase overall profitability of their practice. Eliminating inefficiencies frees professionals in the firm to accomplish more within the working day, leading to higher quality services for existing clients and more time to work on attracting new ones.
Like all industries, the legal world continues to evolve and, for IP law firms, the gap between winners and losers is widening. The competitive advantage that comes from integrating an IP practice management system into a firm is a key factor in innovating a firm’s business to stay ahead of the competitor!
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