Friday 23 December 2011

Yours sincerely: newly-minted professionals, same old problems

Something for newly-minted junior practitioners to chew on
Here's a slow-burner: some four month ago, members of the Canadian Copyright and Trade-mark Law" LinkedIn group were treated to the following practice Question from Kieran Moore: "What is the best way for a newly minted trade-mark agent to build a practice? What are the best sources of trade-mark clients?" Although responses have not been coming thick and fast, the question is still active and readers of this weblog might wish to reflect upon it.

Leaving aside the two most obvious questions ((i) why would anyone want to build their own practice in a recessionary economic climate, (ii) why would anyone who knows the answers to those two questions want to share them with their competitors in the same economic climate?),  readers of this blog may want to meditate over the words of Bart Cormier as they eat (or, if business is that bad, steal) their Christmas turkey:
"There is no magic source of clients and it's unrealistic to think that anyone can become a rainmaker overnight. In my experience, it's hard for a junior professional to convince a client to trust them with their work.

...[U]se the next few years to become more visible in your local community. Offer to speak to industry groups on trademark issues. Join your local Chamber of Commerce and go to the breakfast events (free coffee and interesting conversation!). Volunteer for causes that you're passionate about. Get to know the industries and businesses around you and meet lots and lots of people. Help the people in your network by connecting them to one another.

Make an effort to meet your opposite numbers at the companies you'd love to have as clients. You currently have much more in common with a junior executive/engineer/marketer/accountant than you do with a Vice President or CEO. Meet these people now while they're on their way up. Learn about their companies and how they work.

Do all these things sincerely, because you're interested in other people; not because you're just looking for referrals ...".
This last point, in my opinion, is crucial. n the same way as many small children instantly detect insincerity in adults, many prospective contacts instantly detect insincerity in people who seek to obtain instructions or referrals from them. The big problem is how to be sincere ...

Thursday 8 December 2011

Lower Cost IP Business Advice

One of Hargreaves's recommendations was that SMEs needed access to lower cost IP and commercial advice. The BIS and IPO announced today that the IPO are going to consult businesses, business advisers and IP specialists on how this might be achieved. I can already see the professional bodies girding up their loins to defend the profession and say there is nothing wrong. FICPI have launched a survey designed to show that almost all firms of patent agents offer some free advice and do their marketing at events where entrepreneurs gather. Its true we do and Hargreaves knew that so his conclusion was not made in ignorance. What we need to work out is how the advice can be delivered in a way that is both trustworthy and usable by individual businesses.
  • The call to the IPO. This is the most obvious first step for many. Not a bad idea. It connects you to someone paid £17k pa who has the whole of the wisdom of the IPO to call on.
  • The British Library Business and IP section is a great place to go and get information and do your market research.
  • Inventors clubs. These allow inventors to get together and share information. Leeds is just one example.
  • On line resources such as  a BetterMouseTrap and IdeasUploaded that will link you to designers and others and provide plenty of shared learning experiences.
  • University |Tech Transfer or KT offices. UCL and Greenwich have been particularly keen lately to help all local comers.
This is just a sprinkling of the offers for those intrepid enough to do the research. The mix of business and IP varies considerably from almost all IP at the top of the list to almost all business at the bottom. Mix was important to the Hargreaves recommendation and the professional classes are not very good at mixing it. Indeed we barely try.

So why are the start ups on the Silicon roundabout telling Cameron they are unhappy. Free advice is not enough for them. Its either an untrustworthy grant aided offer from the inexperienced (OK that's harsh but one thing an SME knows is that he is not competent to judge quality and price is often the best indicator of value) or pure marketing designed to sell something paid for (the classic offering we professionals make).

A conundrum
Could we design an ABS that would be *for profit* but not at the super margins of the City law firms but still of interest to shareholders. It would need staff and it would need to mix them up a bit and therein is the hard part because the trend today is for lawyers to become ever more specialised and what we are saying no you cannot do trademark oppositions all day, you need to be able to hack some proper advice about where the marketing budget should be spent as well. Its a tall order and people with those skill sets tend to be CEOs of large organisations not settling in the provinces on a £17k salary. Right we cannot staff it with individual super consultants so it has to be a consultancy that brings teams together and works with the classic pyramid of effort. Hey aren't the accountants rather good at their consulting offers. Oh SMEs cannot afford to go to Accenture. If our ABS IP/Business consultancy is to make a profit it either takes a range of clients and very soon - like large patent agencies and grown up venture funds (3i anyone)  - decides that start ups are not worth bothering with, or it takes real investments in the start ups. Might work. Would the start ups want to share their equity with their consultant. its not a novel business model. To some extent ?What If  do it and it might sound a bit like Intellectual Ventures. Anyone in?