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How your skills as an IP professional can be useful in business development.

You've worked hard to learn your craft. You have a specialty skill that takes a great deal of time and effort to master. While you were working hard to learn how to protect your client’s IP rights, you were also learning key skills that will help you with business development.

There is a lot written about the skills one needs to bring in clients, and as I started working with IP professionals to build their practice, it became apparent that many of the skills honed during years of training are transferable to business development.

Just as IP professionals rely on learned skills to help them understand how to best serve their clients, they can rely on these same skills to build their practice. Here are just a few of those skills.

Listening to the client

IP professionals must always understand what needs to be protected and that comes by listening to the client. For example, before you can begin drafting a patent application, you need to understand the inventive concept and how it came about. By asking questions and listening, you will learn the story that led to the invention: the problem, the deficiency of current solutions and the innovative solution with the advantages it carries are part of the story that the client needs to share with you.

In business development, when you pitch for new work, you weave a similar story. You need to understand what solution you bring to the table. Why should your services be sought over another IP professional’s services? You need to tell your story - why are you the solution to their problem?

Understanding your audience

When you draft a patent or trademark application, you are writing for multiple audiences. You are writing for your client who wants to see their product/brand described accurately but succinctly. You are also writing for an examiner who reviews your work to ensure it meets the legal requirements. You may also ultimately or eventually be writing for a judge and/or experts if there is a challenge. You need to understand your various audiences and write appropriately.

When you are participating in business development activities, you also need to understand your audience. For example, you will be able to use more legalese with someone who is a fellow expert in your legal field than with, say, the CTO of a start up. Then there are those who are fellow IP professionals but in a different service line. Consider for example a patent professional working with a trademark professional who will understand the importance of patent protection but may not know the finer details of patent law.

Further, given the international nature of IP, your work is very likely to bring you in contact with foreign associates around the world. So you may also need to consider different cultures, especially if you are meeting people from countries with specific cultural traditions and expectations.

Choosing your words wisely

Patent professionals may get to be their own lexicographer but you need to still be very cognizant of the words you use in your patent application and even in prosecution documents. The wrong word in a claim or a limiting statement in a response can be the end of your quest to procure a patent. Other IP professionals will also be wary of the same perils.

In business development, when you communicate with clients or prospects, you also need to use appropriate language. Use words that are meaningful to them based on their technology and business (even if you would use a different, perhaps broader, term in any IP application!). Let them know you understand their business.

Appreciating the importance of timing

The IP world revolves around dates. Bar dates, reminder dates, due dates. We've all heard horror stories of the inadvertent loss of rights because of a missed date. We live by the docket system and are eternally grateful to the clerk who makes sure a deadline is satisfied in a timely manner.

In business development, timing also matters. Everyone is targeting every potential client. So make sure to take the time to appreciate the clients you currently have. An SME needs to apply for a patent before bar dates come into effect, but many times can only proceed after they have the funding to pay for it.

And who hasn’t had the call from a client with an urgent problem to be solved…yesterday! These clients will appreciate the professional who was front of mind and available when they were needed.

Nurturing relationships

Have you ever tried to work with a client when you don't have a good relationship with the main contact? You must extract the information you need while making them comfortable. Many business people, for example inventors and especially those new to the process, are reluctant to share the details of their invention for risk of having it stolen.

In business development, relationships are key. Many times, it is not about the pitch or the sale; it's about being trusted and being seen as competent. You are more likely to win work if you have fostered and developed a good relationship with the prospect. For existing clients, you need to provide good service and make the client feel valued.


Did you know you were doing double duty while you were learning how to protect your client’s IP rights? While you were honing these skills, you were also learning how to be effective in business development activities. Skills such as Listening to your clients, knowing your audience, choosing your words wisely, and being cognizant of timing and relationships, you will be able to draft strong patent and trademark applications and also be effective in business development activities.

Are there other skills you know you already have that are transferable to business development?

We know that trying to find time to do business development can be tough. We are here to help you create a personalized business development plan that is tailored to your specific needs. Whether you are a trainee, an associate or a partner, we have a program for everyone.

Interested in learning more?

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Thank you for taking the time to read this month's "Beyond the Application".

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