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EPO Patent Information Conference 2012 - A Personal Review

Since 1991, the annual Patent Information Conference of the European Patent Office (EPO) has been touring European cities big and small. Formerly called EPIDOS, it is the prime get-together of representatives of the EPO, numerous national patent offices, patent information providers, and patent practitioners from the industry, as well as other IP-related service providers and tool vendors like IPfolio.

In the past, stops have included established metropolitan conference hubs such as Munich, Stockholm, Budapest, Prague, and Vienna. In its quest for fostering co-operation and collaboration among all member states of the European Patent System, the EPO has also made a tradition of featuring smaller host countries and less obvious locations, such as the mediterranean resort of Paphos on Cyprus in 2006, the Latvian capital of Riga in 2007, the surfing town of Biarritz on the French Atlantic coast in 2009, and Kilkenny in Ireland last year.

Sunrise on the Alster – photo courtesy of Arne Krueger

This week, the traveling circus made its stop in the city of Hamburg. Having been a regular attendee in previous years, I decided to go, seeing this event mainly as a networking opportunity of slightly nostalgic character. I expected to meet some old friends and acquaintances, keep contact with former colleagues and business partners, check out what's new in the industry, and to show IPfolio's flag on European soil for the first time.

Of course, I was also hoping that the occasional in-house IP manager interested in IPfolio would stop by our exhibition booth. However, my expectations were modest in this regard since the vast majority of attendees tend to be employees of the various patent offices, other service providers, and patent search specialists from Europe's largest companies, none of whom would be typical IPfolio customers.

My expectations were blown away in each and every respect.

Sunday

Arriving at the hotel on Sunday evening after a long flight, I instantly and by total coincidence bumped into Arne Krueger, one of the people I had definitely been looking forward to meeting up with. Arne runs Moving Targets Consulting, an IT consulting firm in Berlin that also offers some patent-related services. He has gained a certain notoriety as a non-conformist visionary who loves to stir up this sometimes stolid industry, and he would use his chance a few days later, big time.

A technology and social media aficionado with a wide variety of other interests, Arne blogs daily at herrkrueger.wordpress.com (in German). He is also an exceptional photographer, and I have taken the liberty to borrow a couple of his pictures from the week to illustrate this post. He joined me for dinner, and we had a great conversation and some good laughs. Arne was very excited to learn what we are doing at IPfolio, and I had no idea at that point of how our conversation would put myself and my company into the spotlight later in the week.

Monday

Jet lag had me sleeping for just a few hours, then up working most of the night, and sleeping again until noon. Working through the nights to keep up with business at home would become a habit this week, while sleeping until noon obviously was not an option on the days that followed.

A pre-conference lunch meeting with Gerhard Mack kicked off the week. Gerhard is probably one of the most veteran Salesforce consultants you will find in Europe. He has been leading Salesforce implementations in major European companies for 10 years, and he shares my conviction that Salesforce will be the dominant ecosystem for business applications of the next decades, just as SAP has been over the past two. Gerhard has developed a social innovation and collaboration platform on the Force.com platform that shares some concepts with IPfolio, and we explored possible avenues of co-operation across the Atlantic.

The pre-conference reception on the same evening brought the anticipated reunion with a good part of my European business network. Having missed three conferences in a row, it was almost like joining a party with lots of old friends. I felt deeply rooted in this community and was met with lots of genuine interest for my new life and venture in California.

Tuesday

The conference was in full flow on Tuesday, with the first block of technical sessions followed by the official opening ceremony and keynote address. I had a very productive lunch meeting with a soon-to-be customer, a deep sea exploration company. Among the things they do is laying the cables on the sea bottom that connect the global internet across continents. Exciting technology and very friendly people who visited the conference mainly for the purpose of having this meeting, and whom I am looking forward to working with.

Reception in the Chamber of Commerce (IHK) – photo courtesy of Arne Krueger

Hosted by the German Patent and Trademark Office, Tuesday's evening reception took place in the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, whose giant halls evoked memories of Stockholm 2008: there, the reception had been held in the splendid City Hall where the Nobel Prizes are awarded.

Wednesday

Fireworks went off near the hotel around 5.30am on Wednesday, as Barrack Obama was announced President of the United States for four more years. For most of my nightly "workday" I had been following the ballot counting, which seemed so dramatically close in the beginning and then swung so rapidly and decisively to the favor of the past and new President as key states turned blue on the TV maps, one after the other.

After some sleep and a quick breakfast, I had my 5-minute slot in the vendor presentations block. With this elevator pitch, I was hoping to draw a few attendees to the IPfolio seminar scheduled for the same afternoon. It is not easy to fill these vendor sessions as they run in parallel to the high-quality conference program, and several other vendors were frustrated with only a handful or even less people attending their seminars. My subdued hopes for a decent turnout partially rested on the brand-new iPad mini that we would be giving away at the end of the seminar.

The plenary session after lunch brought an unexpected highlight, as Arne delivered his talk about the future of patent information. In an unconventional speech that was very personal in the first half and very inspiring in the second, he did not hold back with his provoking opinions. More than a bit of pointed criticism was directed toward some of the "big guys" in the room, including the German PTO, the patent information industry establishment, and HP, whose managing director for Germany had spoken the day before. Then, as a total surprise to me, Arne made a passionate plug for IPfolio, touting us as a prime example of taking a new approach and creating a disruptive solution with huge market potential. Several people jokingly asked me afterwards how much I had paid him for being featured this way. I swear, there was no bribe of any type involved. Thanks Arne!

Finally, the seminar. More than 20 people crowded the small room in what may have been the best turnout of any vendor session. Even better, more than half of the participants were in-house IP managers from companies where IPfolio could be a good fit. I hadn't even spotted that many on the entire attendee list when I had looked for companies of interest before. I gave a spontaneous talk about the consumerization of information technology, the Salesforce ecosystem, and the AppExchange as a new way of purchasing business applications. After that we jumped into a live demo of IPfolio that drew vivid interest and lots of questions, despite some technical difficulties that left us without a projector toward the end of the session. In the draw at the end, Stefan Rautenberg from Valipat was the lucky winner of the iPad mini – congratulations!

Elbe panorama with Hamburg's new philharmony house, the Elbphilharmonie – photo courtesy of Arne Krueger

The conference traditionally culminates in a dinner in an illustrious location on Wednesday. Everyone who attended Budapest 2005 will remember the banquet in a historic train shed, where a roaring steam engine bursting into the room during dessert made people jump in their seats. This time, the dinner took place aboard the historic cargo ship Cap San Diego, which lies anchored on the Elbe river. Just a shame that the band had to stop playing so early, as the crowd was getting fired up and pouring onto the dance floor. Our night ended back at the hotel bar in the company of old and new friends - thanks LexisNexis for the drinks!

Thursday

Two more demos at the booth, and then packing up and hurrying to the airport were the program for Thursday morning, with not enough time to say goodbye to everyone. Take care, and I'm looking forward to seeing you next year Arne, Theo, Sascha, Dan, Diana, Barrou, Babeth, Peter, and many others I didn't catch on my final round across the expo floor.

Now I am on my way back with a pile of business cards, great impressions, and lots of sleep to catch up on. My thoughts are circling around the timeline for building a sales and support organization for IPfolio in Europe. Mid-2013, maybe earlier? There is no doubt that there is significant demand for IPfolio in Europe, even though Enterprise Cloud Computing has not gained the same momentum it has in the U.S.. We currently have 30% of our customer base there, in 4 different countries. The latter number is likely to double before the end of the year. It turns out IPfolio is so reliable and easy to use that the 9 hours of time difference are not much of an issue for supporting our customers. Still, we'll be able to do even better - and grow faster - with a presence on the ground. We will keep you posted on our plans in this regard!

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