Introduction: technology and its challenges

Technology will provide limitless opportunities to service providers in the trademark and related fields in coming years. It promises to offer a much wider range of services, greater efficiency, more potential clients and bigger revenues. However, taking advantage of these opportunities will require making some tough decisions.

One is regarding investment. The technologies that will change trademark work in the future are emerging now. Which businesses or investors will have the confidence, knowledge and deep pockets to seek them out and tailor them to their (and their clients’) needs? In many companies, trademark budgets are being cut – yet building AI tools requires significant initial effort to design the algorithms and sort and input the data, so resources will need to be found to do this. Once this investment is made, the tools can deliver enormous efficiencies – which poses further challenges for staffing and training, as well as marketing.

Another decision concerns scale. While they may require significant investment, many tools are likely to be low margin, so they will only be profitable if there are hundreds or even thousands of customers. This will require service providers to work out the best way to monetise them. Will products sell themselves or will large sales teams be needed? Will consolidation in the industry be inevitable? Will services be monetised directly, through joint ventures or intermediaries?

This raises a further question: who will have the confidence in their new products to take on their competitors and customers? Many tools that will be developed will challenge existing businesses, including those of legal providers. This could prove the toughest business decision for service providers, many of whom have carefully avoided competing with law and IP firms up until now. Breaking out of that model will require bravery.

Finally, the biggest question of all will be: what are the limits on your ambition? New technological tools will have value across industries and regions. Those that develop and commercialise them will be able to expand into other fields, whether they are related or unrelated. This provides a business opportunity for trademark providers, who may be able to diversify to other IP or legal services, or even beyond to marketing, accounting or other areas. However, it also makes them vulnerable to competition from other sectors and market players who may be better resourced or have greater market penetration.

Methodology

This report is one of a series being published by IAM and its sister platform World Trademark Review looking at the future of intellectual property from a number of perspectives. The reports cover patent and trademark work in law firms, in-house departments and service providers. Further reports looking at other parts of the IP ecosystem will be published in 2019.

The reports focus on how IP practice is likely to develop in the medium term, looking at issues such as technology, human resources, new business models and emerging markets. They are based on interviews with more than 50 highly experienced IP professionals operating in different parts of the IP market, conducted between May and September 2018, as well as other research and reading.

All those who took part in the interviews were also invited to complete an online questionnaire – the IP Futures Survey – and some of the results are shown in graphs in the reports.

As the content of the reports is forward-looking; they should not be treated as legal or business advice and the overall conclusions may not reflect the views of all those who were interviewed.

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