Raising your IP IQ

Insider: Laura Quatela

"My suggestion to a board would be to stop and consider whether IP is important to your company. If it is, then the board should both educate itself and make sure it has good people in place to manage the asset."

Who Laura Quatela, chief legal officer of Lenovo Group Ltd. of China; director of Technicolor SA of France and co-founder of Quatela Lynch McCurdy, a Rochester, N.Y.-based IP asset and technology investment consultancy.

Involvement In June, Quatela delivered the opening keynote at the IPBC Global 2017 conference in Ottawa. A lawyer, Quatela made her name in the intellectual property world as chief IP officer of Eastman Kodak from 2008 to 2011, where she turned Kodak’s licencing of its digital camera portfolio into a business that generated more than US$4 billion in revenue. From 2012 to 2014 she was president of Eastman Kodak, then set up her consulting company. Shortly after, she joined Alcatel-Lucent as executive vice-president of intellectual property. Last October, she joined Lenovo.

Listed The title of your keynote in Ottawa was “IP in the Boardroom.” What were the key points you sought to make?

Laura Quatela IP as a topic, and potentially a concern, I think, is increasingly grabbing the attention of corporate boards. That’s the first message. And the second message is that it’s becoming, at least in the U.S., and also in Europe, a focus of shareholder activism. I think in both cases, a contributing factor to that is patents are a very expensive asset class to create and maintain. And I’m not sure that’s always on the minds of the people that actually maintain the assets. So that was another message.

The third key point that I tried to make is that there has been to date a very acrimonious dynamic around IP. Typically the layperson reads about IP when it’s the subject of massively expensive litigation between big players in the world, like Samsung and Apple. My view is that it’s time for a different model, a much more collaborative model. Because if you look at Apple-Samsung as an example, there was a lot of money spent on that litigation and there was very little outcome for either company except the legal bills. I think we need to approach IP rights in a different way. And my concern is that if the industry doesn’t wake up and embrace that notion, somebody’s going to figure it out for us.

Listed What do you mean by that last point?

Laura Quatela As the needle swings from litigious protectionism around intellectual property, at the other end of the spectrum you get open source. And open source has a lot of implications for IP owners. My view is before we become subject to open-source thinking, there’s probably two or three other approaches on the continuum that would be more beneficial to a broader set of companies and we ought to be looking at those and perhaps giving them more play.

Listed Is there an example of that new model out there today?

Laura Quatela There is a fairly new undertaking in the connected car space, where Ericsson has put its patents that are relevant to connected cars into a new company called Avanci. Avanci is attempting to get all of the relevant patent holders around connected cars into one membership group and to licence all of those rights to the car companies, versus the car companies having, you know, 27 different patent holders showing up at their doors to say you owe me this and you owe me that—that’s what we see in the mobile phone space, where there’s this stack now, on any cellphone, of patent licences that pretty much destroy any margin a phone company could hope to have because everything has to get paid over into royalties. That’s not very efficient and it certainly doesn’t stimulate good business. So maybe the connected car model will be different and yield a better result.

Listed An IP conference audience is pretty savvy. How would you frame your message to a general board audience?

Laura Quatela Every board takes an inventory of what’s important to the company that the board serves, right? And those tend to form the agendas of board meetings. My suggestion to a board would be, as you’re taking that inventory, stop and consider whether IP is important to your company. Is it important because you need freedom to practice in a particular space and there are other competitors who hold patent portfolios, which they can use against you? Is IP something that is an asset that you can monetize to create significant revenue for the company? Do you hold patents that you could use to block competitors from entering a market? A board should ask itself those questions and determine whether in fact IP is a strategic priority. If it is, then the board should both educate itself and make sure it has good people in place to manage the asset. If it isn’t, that’s fine, too, move on and figure out what your other strategic priorities are.

Listed You noted at the outset that IP professionals maintaining these assets don’t always appreciate these concerns?

Laura Quatela Yes, my message in Ottawa was really to say we as IP professionals need to be ready to answer the question, whether it comes from the board, the CFO or the CEO: “This is a really expensive thing I’m holding here, do I need it? Why do I need all these patents? What am I using them for? I read the newspaper, I watched Apple sue Samsung and vice versa, they only used a handful of patents, why am I holding 20,000 of them?” That’s really a very good question. And we need to be able to answer those questions.

Interview: Listed Staff

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