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The cover story of the latest issue of IAM, which came out a couple of weeks ago, focuses on Microsoft’s development and launch of Kinect, and the key role that the IP function at the company played in this from day one. We were given the inside scoop on what happened from multiple perspectives, including those of Bart Eppenauer, who leads the patent team at Redmond, and Microsoft’s chief of IP strategy, Tom Rubin. But for me one of the things that makes the article really stand out is the input from Alex Kipman, general manager of incubation in Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business. This is the division of the company that develops the Xbox gaming console platform, and it was Kipman’s team that evolved the original concept for Kinect.
Kipman is not a lawyer and does not have a background in IP, yet he speaks fluently about the subject and is clear that it is fundamental to Microsoft’s on-going success, as well as to Kinect specifically: “If you are going to set out with the objective of generating a whole new world, you will need to see sustainable differentiation if you are coming up with the investment in people and resources to make that objective happen. If you look at it through that kind of lens, IP becomes paramount in the process.”
You must know this before investing a single R&D dollar in a project, Kipman explains. “By the time you recognise that IP is going to be important to a product like Kinect, you’re already too late to the game,” he says. “We are a very sophisticated IP company, and it’s not a matter of recognising the importance of intellectual property on a project-by-project basis. It’s really more a matter of IP being a state of mind at Microsoft. Everyone here is wired that way … It is ingrained in us.”
And this, I submit, is why Microsoft is a best-in-class IP operation. You can have an excellent IP function, which the company certainly does, but if the rest of the business does not see IP as a strategic tool, then you are always going to be playing catch-up. The fact that someone on the cutting edge of product development can not only say what Kipman does, but – most important of all – act on it, tells you all you need to know about the great job Microsoft’s IP team has done, as well as the support that it has received from on high; which is also a point that Kipman recognises. “It’s something that Bill [Gates] has been passionate about for quite some time,” he states.
Every company in which IP has become an integral part of operations has the same story to tell: you have to get out there and made sure everyone in the business understands the importance of IP and you have to make sure that there is buy-in from the top. There really is no alternative.
IP management, Brands, Patents, IP business