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Designing systems for intellectual property

Livelink, Beehive, Texcel transform data into tangible assets

Organizations are accustomed to managing intellectual property in the form of patent and trademark data. Research, product development, manufacturing processes, as well as chemical and pharmaceutical data, have been controlled, captured and in many cases counted toward a company's bottom line. Still, the bulk of intellectual capital within an organization remains unstructured and unmanaged within the minutes, memos and minds of employees. Organizations are increasingly seeking ways to manage that most valuable (and most intangible) corporate asset.

Thanks to the proliferation of document capture, management and collaborative groupware tools, much of what was once locked in file drawers or gray matter is now accessible. Corporate intranets and E-mail messaging systems now hold (however fleetingly) intellectual assets that were never before codified. However, those tools are seldom installed expressly to manage intellectual property.

Linda Szmyt, project manager of product groups at Newbridge Networks (www.newbridge.com), a Canadian network hardware vendor, said that Newbridge has taken a phased approach to sharing its technical research. Newbridge has created a central repository for its corporate information, which is accessible to every employee.

Newbridge uses Livelink from Open Text (www.opentext.com) to manage, share and retrieve technical research and development information globally. Because Livelink is Web-based, it gives Newbridge the ability to support various client platforms and allows cross-departmental collaboration.

Deployment required extensive planning at Newbridge due to specific requirements at each level.

"We started in our marketing and sales department with 600 users," said Szmyt. "Research and development and our technical library also have a need, and that got our VP interested in the change."

"We use the system as a source of information that's not been published, not formalized," Szmyt continued. "This is very tacit information we're capturing, as opposed to structured or explicit, but we're sharing it in a formalized, structured way."

Toward the goal of capturing what's known within an organization, companies are adopting best practices and expert systems tools. Those tools offer another way to share information while providing an environment to document and quantify intellectual assets.

A recent entrant into that emerging space is Abuzz (www.abuzz.com), which has announced availability of its Beehive product. Beehive is designed to dynamically update user profiles, finding and identifying experts.

One Chicago-based consulting firm is in the middle of a four-month pilot using Beehive internally to encourage the exchange of information among its 300 employees. According to the company's CKO, the system has grown spontaneously with no internal mandate for participation.

"Everyone gets a user profile," he said, "and anyone can ask questions." The answers to those questions are systematically archived and kept in the Beehive system. Should the same questions be asked again, the answers remain available regardless of whether the original "expert" has left the company.

The project manager quoted users as saying, "Not only was my question answered, but it was answered by someone I didn't even know."

The efficacy of such systems increases as the database gets populated. However, it is possible to preload responses to the most anticipated queries.

While the scope of information classed as quantifiable intellectual property expands, it in no way diminishes the importance of managing patent data. The Intellectual Property Asset Management (IPAM) system from Aurigin Systems (www.aurigin.com) directly addresses that space (see KMWorld, February 1999).

Content management systems are simply another tool for managing IP. Ironically, even the Patent Office itself relies on content management software to handle its intellectual property management needs.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) is using Texcel (www.texcel.com) Information Manager as part of its project to develop an electronic workplace for patent examination. The PTO is implementing an electronic patent process to decrease the time required to grant patents.

With more than 200,000 applications received annually, and with each application taking over 22 months to process, the PTO is moving to an automated system using electronic documents. The PTO plans to begin deploying the automated system by 2001 and is projecting savings of $20 million per year.

"This is part of our ongoing mission to protect the intellectual property rights of our constituents," said Dennis Shaw, chief information officer of the PTO.

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