The word 'liaison' comes from the French language and means to communicate and coordinate. Patent liaison "connects" R&D department and Business operations department with Patent filing & prosecution department.
At Canon, there exist IP Departments each being in charge of one of technology areas. IP Departments for some area have liaison specialists, whilst in other areas, there might just be one staff member who is responsible for both liaison and filing & prosecution.
Liaison includes many different things, but a representative task is "invention harvesting activities". These activities involve receiving, from inventors, explanations about “inventions” or “ideas” that form the basis of inventions, and holding meetings to polish the “ideas” or “inventions”. At Canon, in these invention harvesting meetings we clarify the content of inventions, novelty, inventive step, and effects of inventions, as well as discuss policies on filing & prosecution. After the invention harvesting meeting we file a patent application for inventions, proceed with patent prosecution, and finally obtain a "patent (right)".
Points about liaison work
Active invention harvesting activities
As mentioned earlier, one of the most important roles of our liaison specialist is to manage the invention harvesting meeting in order to polish their ideas or inventions conceived by inventors with patent engineers and inventors.
The important point in the invention harvesting meeting is for our liaison specialists to proactively uncover ideas or inventions that developers are unaware of - it is not just a passive role where one waits for inventions from inventors.
For example, when developing a new web application, a developer may consult with our IP Department regarding an invention relating to new functionality which will be the main feature of the application. Our liaison specialists will of course polish the invention relating to the new functionality but will also explore whether other inventions are hidden in the new web application Our liaison specialists can sometimes recognize, through a discussion with the developers, a wonderful invention which the developers could not recognize. Thus, the important role of liaison is to uncover such hidden inventions with developers.
IP consultation work
Another important role of our liaison specialists is to respond to questions and requests from the R&D department and Business operations department. The liaison specialists are the face and contact point of the IP Department from the viewpoint of these departments. As a more specific example, our liaison specialists analyze the patent applications of competitors and examine the future direction of those companies and the themes they are focused on, and summarize common points and differences with our company's business themes. They not only analyze competitors, but also sometimes pick up on companies that hold technology that is needed for these business themes, that is to say, open innovation partner candidates from the perspective of patent applications.
Rewards of liaison
Liaison specialists are consulted by other departments first whenever something happens, and so this means that they are required to acquire sufficient knowledge of not only patent law, but also business operations, products, and technologies. In addition, communication skills are necessary for liaison specialists. They work every day with the aim of getting other departments to think, "Let's always consult with our liaison specialists about IP".
Gaining trust from other departments deepens the relationship with R&D department and Business operations department, and the pleasure that our liaison specialists feel when they succeed in business together with these departments is absolutely enormous.
Liaison specialists spend a lot of time dealing with invention harvesting meeting and consultations from other departments, and in one day they may attend a number of invention harvesting meetings. They also analyze patent applications. Some liaison specialists may spend days when they participate in external committees and exchange information with IP professionals of other companies while also network-building.
Opening up a new form of liaison
At Canon IP Headquarters, we can take liaison beyond the framework of conventional IP activities.
For example, our liaison specialists may form a team with other colleagues from the Business operations, R&D, and Design departments to discuss a new business theme, or even they might participate in interviews with customers in the same vein. It is difficult to conceptualize a new project and contribute to a team by utilizing the strengths of the specialist of the IP Department without becoming too caught up with the framework of conventional IP activities but it is rewarding work and can lead to personal growth.
In addition, sometimes liaison specialist can truthfully say “I have the greatest understanding of this theme in the IP Department,” and after repeated discussions with inventors, the liaison specialist sometimes drafts up a description usually done by a patent engineer, which has led to a quicker than normal patent application.
Liaison is very varied and our liaison specialists have to not only carry out standard liaison tasks efficiently but also be open to new tasks and new forms of projects.