Data, in the form of matter information, tasks, dates, and documents is a fundamental ingredient for high quality IP operations and docketing. As IP groups seek to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness, many are finding that data is one of their biggest obstacles. In a recent benchmarking poll, we found that 87% of IP organizations see their data as a significant challenge to their IP operations. These data challenges manifest themselves in a number of interrelated ways, implicating nearly every aspect, from staffing to systems.
TAMING THE DATA BEST
So how do IP operations and docketing solve these challenges? In working with our clients to address these issues, we have identified a number of useful innovations that can improve how IP data is received, managed and used.
REDUCE MANUAL DATA ENTRY
Docketing has always been a manual process. So it’s not surprising that “labor intensive data entry” was cited as one of the most difficult challenges facing IP operations (73%). Whether correspondences are received by email or paper, some type of human work is required to docket. Add to the process “double data entry” controls, and docketing often becomes one of the IP department’s biggest staff commitment.
While docketing and other IP management work will always require specialized expertise, the availability of electronic PTO information is beginning to afford new docketing approaches that reduce—and in some instances eliminate—data entry. For example, users of the USPTO’s Image File Wrapper tools are able to download complete application histories including all bibliographic data, prosecution transactions, and documents. Leveraging this availability, some vendors are beginning to offer PAIR tools that can automatically download and docket IFW data. While international coverage is still limited, this trend will continue.
In addition to PTO data, we have also been working with clients and their outside counsel to design and develop centralized “docketing hubs”. By setting up a docketing hub, outside counsel are able to submit correspondences and docket reports directly to a centralized processing system. The hub can then automatically extract data and documents, and enter directly into the clients docketing system.
IMPROVE DATA QUALITY
For many (69% in our poll), poor data quality is a fundamental issue. Inaccuracies and omitted data raise questions of reliability. Users become cautious to use reports perceived as error-prone. Years of accumulated bad data entry practices, acquired portfolios and prior system conversions are oft-quoted culprits. While data clean-up is the obvious answer, the project’s size and complexity deters most organizations from pursuing a solution.
Today, with the increased availability of electronic IP data and advanced data transformation tools, even the largest portfolios can be fixed. The USPTO and other offices have significantly improved access to prosecution data, including the ability to bulk download full file wrapper information in formats readily used for data validation. In addition, there are a number of third party data services able to provide high quality, aggregated data. These services apply advanced data quality techniques, such as normalization and error cleansing, as well as formats and tools to support a more efficient data project.
USE ADVANCED ANALYTICS AND BI TOOLS
The docketing system remains the de facto platform for managing the IP process. While IP system vendors have made strides to improve their capabilities, many clients continue to struggle with their use (see our other article, Why Don’t IP Systems Meet the Needs of IP Departments?) When it comes to data, the inability to create reports remains a critical challenge (63%). The problem is that the docketing systems’ reporting modules lack the ability to present data and information in the way users require. Compounding the issue, many vendors simply export data to Excel. While convenient, Excel lacks certain capabilities or requires a level of proficiency that most users lack.
As an alternative, we are working with clients to use advanced analytics and business intelligence (BI) tools. In the last 2-3 years, there has been rapid growth in the BI tools market. While the tools are not IP specific, they are able to take data from any source (including IP docketing systems) and provide more advanced and easier to use reporting. Clients are able to use data from multiple sources and in various formats, and can often directly integrate the BI tools to existing docketing systems.
USE ALTERNATIVE STAFFING APPROACHES
In today’s resource constrained work environment, it is no surprise that the “lack of resources to manage” data and related processes was the most often cited challenge (81%). This is a function of staff availability, as well as the lack of skills and experience needed to manage IP data. For many, IP operations has become a distributed role with no single person controlling the complete process. In some instances, responsibility for IP data is considered an IT activity and is supported by non-IP experienced resources. Lacking a cohesive approach, it is no wonder that IP groups face data challenges.
For some fortunate organizations, they are able to identify the issues and root causes, and institute an IP operations structure that ensures proper data management. For many of our clients, however, alternative sourcing models are being used to in-source IP operations and docketing skills that can ensure quality and cost-effectiveness. While docketing was once considered a core competency of the IP department, advances in electronic data, systems and collaboration now open the possibility of using an external service provider for many IP functions. The use of managed services allows clients greater control over data and related processes, and frees up internal resources to work on higher value activities. This is an increasing trend that points towards growth in alternative staffing approaches.