If your IP career trajectory includes a future as in-house counsel, you’ll have opportunities to join companies with organized programs, and ground-floor opportunities to formalize a program. Kevin McLintock signed up for the latter when he joined Logitech in May 2011 as Director of Worldwide IP.
If you used a desktop computer after 1990, you’ve probably touched a Logitech product. Founded in the early 1980s in southwestern Switzerland, Logitech became one of the world’s top computer peripheral brands as desktop computing and mice and keyboards invaded businesses and homes. By December 2008, it had manufactured over one billion mice.
The explosion of mobile computing, however, requires fewer mice and keyboards so Logitech has branched out. Kevin’s mandate since arriving has been to align IP strategy and program execution to support expansion into emerging categories such as wireless music speakers, videoconferencing and video game controllers. We sat down with him to discuss his role in the company.
Kevin McLintock, Logitech's Director of Worldwide Patent and IP Strategy
What was it like when you first arrived?
Logitech’s revenues the year before I joined were very close to $2 Billion. Despite the company’s size and history of product innovation, there was no collective IP strategy. I knew this, of course. Building a formal program from the ground up was a big part of what interested me as an IP professional. Logitech was almost a greenfield opportunity.
What was Logitech’s IP history up till then?
We'd been filing patents for 20 plus years in a very ad hoc way. Each business group was independently responsible for deciding what they filed their patents on. Their budgets were based on their contribution to total companywide revenue. Mice and keyboards made most of the money for the company so mice and and keyboards got the biggest chunk of money to spend on patents.
The business groups could figure out, and did figure out on their own, what to file for, but they were just protecting products that we were creating and releasing. Back then, we had an attorney, not a patent attorney, but a corporate attorney who helped guide Logitech’s patent filings. She tried to do some strategic work but there was always partition across the business groups. There was no cohesive strategy for the company. Engineers could just call the outside counsel and say, “Let's file a patent on this because it is new and interesting.” The outside counsel would then draft the application and continue to file until the budget ran out.
My arrival was the first time in the company's history that they had an experienced patent professional focussed on creating an IP strategy.
How did you start the process?
The foundation of any IP program is an IP strategy. Before you figure out the how and what, you need to agree on the why. The purpose of IP for us at Logitech is really freedom to operate. It is our primary goal right now. Freedom to operate applies to current products and forward-looking opportunities. It’s a balance of protecting our current revenue sources and where we foresee as future opportunities.
You need to file patents that will allow you to operate in both. They may be on products that you would make, patents based on competitive products, and patents to pursue cross-licensing opportunities.
Finally, you need to consider developing a portfolio for defensive flexibility if someone else takes issue with your products. A strong portfolio is a massive asset if you have to negotiate your way out of it.
What did you do first? I assume it was a group effort, with input from strategic planning, sales, R&D and engineering?
Yes. Our first priority was securing agreement and buy-in across the entire company. What should our priorities be? We can't possibly file on every idea from every group because something is important for a small category or product. You have to look more globally when prioritizing. We did this by using a four-step process:
1. Current Products and Markets
We needed to protect current operations. This meant filing patents, utility applications on the basics of what we're doing, design patents covering specific products, and foreign patents for manufacturing and geographic markets. We also filed to ensure we had the right number in each category.
2. Forward-Looking Opportunities
We had to protect forward-looking areas. What did we think we were going to be doing in 3-5 years? We analyzed potential future markets and the seed IP we might need to expand into them.
3. Future Markets Where We May Not be Active
Another important step is to think about future markets from the perspective of simple R&D. Are there inventions we could patent now that we might not develop into products? Could they be interesting and attractive to competitors in the future?
4. Future Enforcement
In every prospective future product area, you have to think offense and defense. What could we do to maximize our future options to take action against someone else or be able to defend if someone takes action against us? This often means determining the right number of patents.
How important is consensus when finalizing strategy?
Implementing an IP strategy is so much easier if everyone is on board. Consensus when finalizing your IP strategy ensures a less contentious future. When our business group leaders agreed on what was important and strategically significant, they understood that we’d prioritize future decisions based on this strategy. People could then understand, for example, that perhaps we wouldn’t file any patents from the video business group, for the next six months, because we were prioritizing other ideas from other groups based on the filing priority that everyone had agreed to.
One more comment about strategy. Know that you will have to update it. Any mobile phone IP strategy written in 2006, for example, would have been woefully out-of-date by 2009 following the introduction of iPhone. The iPhone arrived in 2007. It was an instant success. Many assumptions that seemed so perfectly logical in 2006 proved to be completely wrong.
What were some of the changes that you felt were critically important for Logitech?
Our portfolio was very dense, covering very product-specific implementations. We needed to transition away from that approach. To do it, we needed everyone to understand the importance of creating more meaningful IP. We started shifting our filing strategy from filing to protect specific products to covering more fundamental platforms and more forward-looking ideas. This is, of course, what everyone expects from IP, but it’s often hard to implement if you don’t have the big picture.
An early Logitech mouse from the 1980s
Next week, we’ll talk to Kevin about how Logitech’s IP strategy guides tactical execution and how he uses IPfolio to manage his portfolio.