Interview with Dr. Vinod Surana on IP Management

Companies nowadays create and diligently protect their IP's. The core elements of their success comes from how effectively manage, exploit and commercialize their IP to create a greater value for their business. Yellow Box interviews the IP Expert Dr. Vinod Surana, CEO & Partner, Surana & Surana International Attorneys, to share his experiences and thoughts about creating a good IP Management ecosystem and model.

Q1: Why is IP management important to a company?

Ans: IP management has 3 parts (a) nurturing and guiding the intellectual capabilities of employees to create better products which save time, energy and/or money for customers; (b) registering of innovations to prevent copying from competitors; and (c) exploiting the registered innovations to create better value for business (commercialization).

Effective IP management increases value of the company, as well as attracts high quality talent.

Q2: What strategies may be adopted to stimulate IP creation within the company?

Ans: There is no single foolproof “fit-all” strategy. The most important factor which leads to creation of new IP is leadership commitment to innovation. The leader should inculcate an innovation ecosystem within the organization and nurture a cordial & creative work environment.

Q3: What are the issues that companies face in managing their IP? If you were to single out one major issue, what would it be and why?

Ans: In my opinion, the most common issues companies face while managing their IP are lack of:

a. leadership commitment;

b. clearly defining and communicating the innovation policy;

c. structured approach to innovation;

d. awareness on customer’s requirements;

e. communication/understanding between key people; and

f. focus (doing too many things at the same time).

Technical expertise is normally not the problem. People-related issues are the major problem. Innovation requires the leadership to make a commitment to foster innovation; effectively communicate its vision; maturely handle human resources; and finally, provide the required resources.

Q4: Which are some of the role model companies that you would advise your clients to look up to, from an IP management perspective?

Ans: From my personal experience I can suggest a few examples which we can learn from:-

TOYOTA: In 1924, Mr. Toyoda invented a textile machine (loom), patented it and sold his patent for Pounds 100,000. With that money, he started an automobile plant. Today, Toyota has become the world’s No.1 automobile manufacturer based on constant innovation in design and manufacturing process. Innovation is in their DNA.

APPLE & SONY: Sony created the portable music player “walkman” (technical innovation based on customer feedback/requirements) to rule the portable music segment for over 30 years. Apple artistically incorporated an “Easy to use, attractive to hold” philosophy to the existing components/technologies (functionality & design to appeal to the new generation) to take over leadership of the portable music player industry.

Burger King: After 10 years of research across America and Europe, in October 2013, Burger King launched a new range of French Fries containing 40% lesser fat and 30% lesser calories. Burger King symbolizes intensive market research to understand customer preferences. Though their burgers are almost identical to those of McDonalds, their market research identified that the “accompanying” French Fries was the significant influence for customers to choose which burger chain to buy the meal from!

Q5: From the point of view of a non-legal person, a contract is always visualized as a bulky document containing many jargons. Does this always have to be the case?

Ans: A lawyer is always thought of as a serious, dull, old and difficult-to-deal-with person. Similarly, a legal document is always thought of as bulky, difficult to comprehend and almost certain to give the reader a headache. However, the reality is far from the stereo-types.

A document only reflects the clarity (or lack of clarity) that its creator may have. By following simple principles of drafting, a document can be quite short, simple and sufficient, and give rise to clearly defined roles, responsibilities and liabilities. For this, the client must know exactly what he/she wants. The lawyer should be able to comprehend accurately the client’s instructions and express the same clearly in writing. I have seen licensing agreements run over 75 to 100 pages and quickly land in court. I have also seen agreements of a couple of pages standing for decades without disputes.

Q6: What according to you is the role of IP professionals in effective IP management?

Ans: I think IP professionals play a vital role in all spheres of IP management. They bring in as much value as the creators of IP. For instance, we have been associated with the R&D teams of many companies and are involved with them right from the stage of idea creation/generation. We conduct feasibility studies and develop a roadmap for them to focus on untapped areas. We have also been advising companies on the best ways to protect, commercialize and enforce their IP rights, taking into account their business needs as well as cost constraints.

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