Intuit built a financial technology platform on branding, product innovation and smart acquisitions. Trademarks and patents have been key foundations, of course, to the company’s growth and success, and managing thousands of them requires a solid technological foundation. We spoke with Senior Patent Counsel Arien Ferrell about the process Intuit followed when choosing and implementing IPfolio as its IP management system.
IPfolio: Before even mentioning IP management systems, how did you end up in your position at Intuit?
Ferrell: After law school at Pepperdine, I entered private practice with a firm in Ventura. From there, I joined a startup where I was the sole in-house patent counsel, trademark and every other kind of counsel. A few years at Sun Microsystems followed. After two senior people from Sun joined Intuit, I decided to follow them to Mountain View.
IPfolio: Other than personal relationships, what attracted you to Intuit?
I really like growing patent portfolios from the ground up. At that time, Intuit was a 25-year-old company with just 10 patents. I saw a great opportunity to do what I enjoy for an established name. Thirteen years later, we now have more than 850 patents and are continuing to file patent applications at a rapid pace. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on our copyrights and trademarks. It’s worked out very well.
IPfolio: What is Intuit the company?
We’re the company behind TurboTax, QuickBooks, Mint and a variety of professional tax prep brands. While we have operations around the globe, most of our revenues and earnings come from our US operations. We have substantial mobile, online, and cloud based components that support various financial platform strategies, and we continue to innovate to apply emerging technologies like AI and machine learning to provide a better customer experience. We also continue to have desktop versions of our products that many reading this may recognize.
IPfolio: What is your role at Intuit?
I am in charge of the patent portfolio strategy, which has a global perspective. Intuit’s patent portfolio is active in Europe, India, Australia, Canada, and a few other countries based on acquisitions.
IPfolio: What’s the role of IP at Intuit?
Intuit uses IP to protect its brand and innovations, showcase Intuit’s capabilities as a technology company, and as a talent acquisition tool. The world of software moves so quickly, and patents are a great way to tell Intuit’s technology story. When it comes to our brands, millions of consumers and small businesses know TurboTax, QuickBooks, and Mint
IPfolio: Prior to IPfolio, how did Intuit manage its IP? Was there any technology already in place?
Intuit used to have a product called QuickBase, a popular and flexible database product intended for a wide range of users. We created our first patent database in QuickBase. Over the years, it continued to meet our needs and that of our business partners, not to mention the large body of expertise within the company. However, it was custom built and had some challenges when it came to changes and knowledge transfer, so we started to explore other options.
IPfolio: Did you organize a formal evaluation project or RFP process?
Yes. Once we decided to leave QuickBase and put a new solution in place, we approached IPfolio and a number of other IP management system vendors. We provided our design specs and a functionality wish list, then extensive demos with each vendor followed.
IPfolio: Did your list include “must have” features when choosing an IP management system?
Flexibility and security are key. Many of the IP management system options are modularized. You get this module and that module, these forms and those forms. While they are pretty complete, they lack quick flexibility. We had to be able to do things our way―not just in operational set-up, and workflow for the IP team, inventors, and business leaders―but in the types of reports we can run.
IPfolio: What was the evaluation process?
We investigated different solutions using our own internal evaluation criteria. Then we brought in external stakeholders like management and legal, technical, security leadership, multiple inventor communities, and our reviewer community. It was a large number of stakeholders and an extensive process.
IPfolio: How long did it take?
From deciding to switch away from QuickBase to deciding that IPfolio was the best choice took three to four months.
IPfolio: How did you end up selecting IPfolio? Was there anything specific that made it stand out?
IPfolio was the most flexible. As I said, flexibility and fine-grain level of control were key for us. A solution that we couldn’t modify fairly readily wouldn’t work for us. IPfolio also offered really great value in terms of cost and support. Moreover, the security afforded by the Salesforce platform was well known to many internal stakeholders.
IPfolio: What was the implementation process?
It was probably eight months from the time we started to our go-live date. We’re really picky and the flexibility afforded by IPfolio really let us fine-tune it to get exactly what we wanted.
We started by helping the IPfolio implementation team become extremely familiar with our existing QuickBase system. Once they understood it, they started configuring IPfolio using sample data to confirm import and output processes. We regularly met to explain what we liked, what we didn’t like and the changes we wanted.
It was a long process of iterating IPfolio in a non-production environment. Moreover, the IPfolio team did an excellent job in cleaning up our existing QuickBase data, and then transferring to IPfolio.
No project of this magnitude is without it’s hiccups, and the IPfolio team was with us every step of the way, from fine-tuning our instance, to troubleshooting workflows, to fixing issues with our data. Since going live in production, we have also added a completely new module. It’s incredibly useful.
IPfolio: Which module is that?
Internally, we call it the “Brainstorm Front-End” module. It enables my team and me to capture our interactions with the business in terms of initiatives and projects that the business is working on. As we identify potentially patentable subject matter, we can create Invention Disclosure Forms (IDF) connected to initiatives/projects. When talking to the business, we can capture their initiatives, the people involved and the things they are working on. In a moment, we can create an IDF that captures different projects, initiatives and all the relevant details.
IPfolio: With all the customization in the system, was user training difficult?
By the time we went live, the customer success people at IPfolio completely understood our IP management processes here and how we would individually use the system. For the patent team, we had detailed training to walk us through the different processes. It was all very personalized; the training I received as a patent attorney was very different than what the paralegal received.
IPfolio: Who is using IPfolio now?
My team and I are the primary users. The inventor community enters IDFs, which are reviewed by our reviewer community. We also recently created our first executive viewer account and will create more. All my outside counsel and law firm resources have access to it. They regularly login and manage our dockets this way.
In terms of frequency, the patent team lives in IPfolio every day. We receive many invention disclosures every month so inventors are pretty regular users. Reviewers probably log-in twice a month because we have two meetings per month per review team. Paralegals within our outside counsel firms are also frequent users, probably five or six times a week.
IPfolio: What has the feedback been from users?
They really like the interface and our brainstorm front end, and love the speed. Interactions with everyone involved with IP at Intuit are now far more efficient and measurable because they’re tracked. We can show company leaders our activities, such as whom we are engaging with and where IDFs are coming from, in addition to which IDF’s turned into filed patent applications.
IPfolio: How important are the metrics?
We have a lot more now. We can track a lot of activities within the program using a more data friendly toolset. We have greater internal quantitative control of our own processes. The ability for us to gather data on the different work that we do, monitor our own progress and identify opportunities to improve is a huge plus.
IPfolio: Having used IPfolio in production now for six months, how would you describe the impact?
The speed, flexibility, and security have been huge for us. In addition, the ability to get into the weeds on the data to rigorously measure team and company performance in protecting its IP have been key to a great story around the IPfolio rollout and adoption. The depth of insight that you can get is hard to match. The flexibility of IPfolio can be a little overwhelming, but for us it was a strength.
IPfolio: Final questions, how would you describe IPfolio's value in three words to a professional colleague?
Flexible, fast, and secure.
Thanks to Arien to taking the time out from his workday at Intuit’s Mountain View, CA campus to provide some perspective on choosing an IP management system. If you’re interested in learning more from him, he will be one of the speakers at the IPforward 2018 conference in April.