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Managing a Lean IP Department at Deutsche Post DHL Group

Deutsche Post DHL Group is the world's leading mail and logistics services Group, with annual revenues above USD65B, and 470,000 employees in 220 countries and territories.

Björn Ulmer has led* the IP/patent team as Director / Head of Corporate Patent Management over the past 3 years. Ulmer has an atypical background for an IP professional; He is an economist by background and arrived at Deutsche Post DHL from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) with an extensive business strategy resume. Approached to lead the Corporate Patent Management (CPM) team, he found the world of patents and IP fascinating and irresistible.

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Björn Ulmer, Former Director & Head of Corporate Patent Management at Deutsche Post DHL Group *

We spoke with Björn at the Global Patent Congress in Copenhagen about his experience revamping Deutsche Post DHL Group’s patent program, including the process of evaluating and implementing IPfolio.

What did you discover when you took over the Patent Management in 2012?

The patent program here had started in the early 2000s. My first project in 2012 was to develop and implement a new corporate patent strategy directly linked with our business strategy. As you would expect, the early months were filled with research and stakeholder meetings, many with Business Unit leaders and external peers. They clearly understood the need to prevent others from copying our innovations e.g. in automation and last mile delivery, and were enthusiastic about collaborating with us. Although they wanted us to manage everything, they also wanted to be able to look more actively into our portfolio and contribute their perspective.


Who do you work with?

I’m the head of the Corporate Patent Management (CPM). There are a handful of Patent Consultants inside a massive organization of almost 475,000. We have a little bit of a matrix structure, with key account leads for the group’s Divisions, and functional responsibilities like commercialization, licensing, analytics or inventor remuneration assigned to individuals within my team.


Do you draft and prosecute in-house at all?

No. Our technological fields are too broad, and our filing numbers aren’t big enough yet to justify building in-house expertise. So we outsource this part of the work to external counsels.


How many of your team are patent lawyers, then?

None of us are. We discovered that creating an impartial channel between inventors, patent lawyers, and product owners reduces potential interest conflicts. We work as internal Patent Consultants as the driver and bridge between everyone. This independence ensures objectivity when determining issues such as whether something is patentable, and if so, deciding if it is worth doing.


Can you tell us anything about your filing strategy?

Very broadly speaking, the decision-making process is focused on, and aligned with, our long-term corporate strategy. We have moved away from the “bottom-up” and more quantitative approach, to a “top-down” quality driven strategy, where we identify areas of strategic importance with the business owners and then actively scout and mine for patentable ideas related to those strategic areas.


What was the catalyst as far as choosing IPfolio?

When CPM was set up in the early 2000s, we implemented a traditional docketing system. But this was oversized for our organization and too complex for our internal patent consultants, as they just needed a small part of it. Therefore it was replaced by a highly customized system built on an Access database. Very efficient to our previous needs, but expensive to maintain and especially to update with new features.


At that point, it was 2013, I said, “We need something new. We need a modern standard tool. A small department like ours can not be that different, so we don’t need a custom-developed solution.” In the end it turned out that we are indeed a bit different.


We are different because we are a very big, global company with a relatively small and lean patent team. Look at the market for IP management solutions, and you will see that most of the systems are either designed for big companies with big patent portfolios and budgets, or for small companies with small portfolios. The “big” tools are oversized for us, and the “small” tools often lack the flexibility to deal with a complex corporate structure and decision-making processes like ours.


How did you research IP management solutions?

We really analyzed, I would say, most available tools on the market. We started first in Germany, then looked beyond. In the end, we identified and chose IPfolio.


Ultimately, we settled on IPfolio because it allowed us the flexibility that we needed, and it could be implemented and migrated very quickly. It was a win-win situation, where IT said “It’s great if you can get such a tool up and running so quickly, and we can reduce our efforts.”


In the spirit of the “lean” IP department, the software implementation was very lean as well. It was very cost-effective and needed few resources.


What are the results so far? What has changed since the roll-out?

IPfolio was easy to roll out, and I can produce reliable management reports, with the click of a button.


Global access means that our IP liaisons in the business units now have instant access to the patent portfolio, and inventors from all over the world can send their ideas to us for review.


Administration overhead has dropped. IPfolio is a very cost-effective system and delivers a steady flow of innovations to its standard product compared to our own development.


Other benefits we’ve already seen are improved internal processes and a better understanding of decision criteria and budget.


Overall, IPfolio is a very convenient way to manage a portfolio at a strategic level.


Thank you for your time Björn, and all the best for the future!


* Since this interview was conducted, Björn has left Deutsche Post DHL Group. He is now Managing Director at PatentSight GmbH, a provider of strategic patent portfolio analytics and consulting services.

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