According to a recent study by IT and business automation company Redwood Software, about 25 percent of most employees’ time worldwide is spent on repetitive tasks. That knowledge, combined with her training as an engineer, has driven Meredith McKenzie to look for ways to reduce repetition at Juniper Networks, a Fortune 1000 global designer and seller of networking equipment.
McKenzie earned an electrical engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and landed a job at Intel as a microprocessor design engineer after graduation. At the time, Intel had a program to help its engineers go to law school while working in its legal department. Now deputy general counsel at Juniper Networks, her engineering background lends a unique perspective to solving the bottlenecks and inefficiency that can needlessly slow down progress.
One of her responsibilities is to oversee intellectual property and product support, including inbound technology licensing, which covers instances in which Juniper must integrate technology from another company into one of its products. This was the first area in which she saw opportunity for improvement.
“It’s easy to create templates and standard processes for some legal documents like nondisclosure agreements (NDAs)”—which, in Juniper’s case, are generally designed to protect its proprietary technology from third parties—“and real estate leases,” she says, “but inbound technology licensing is much more complex and has issues that can change from case to case.” Inbound licensing deals tend to be highly negotiated and are more likely to vary from deal to deal. This is because each deal is specialized to reflect specific technology, including its particular purpose and usage, plus each company supplying technology has a different business model for licensing its technology.
It is not uncommon for companies to improve their patent program process, nor is it uncommon to have standard clauses or a list of alternative clauses for various types of licenses. Juniper is no different. But, says McKenzie, the clauses did not provide guidance on their interaction with other clauses. This left negotiators without additional knowledge to negotiate as a whole, rather than one clause at a time.
McKenzie’s nine-person team (including seven lawyers) discovered a group of clauses and definitions in most licensing agreements that tend to be repeatedly disputed and often interact in unique ways with other clauses, so they created a template that lists various options for each, essentially ending up with a multiple-choice framework. For instance, a variety of choices are provided for describing the “limitation of liability” clause along with possible interactions with other clauses and how those should be amended accordingly. The attorneys are, thus, able to provide guidance to the users regarding the alternatives and how they may interact with other parts of the document.
“This has given the whole process a lot more consistency—no matter which business units are involved—while still giving the internal clients some freedom of choice,” says McKenzie. “It helps people in the company understand why we need certain language in these agreements.” It’s also enabled her to utilize the services of some of her lower-level attorneys.
McKenzie calls this new document the “licensing playbook” and intends to create similar templates for other common legal transactions. All of them will be dynamic (they will be tweaked as users and situations demand).
Studies show that templates streamline workflows and ensure nothing essential is missed. McKenzie agrees: “These documents will enable us to capture institutional knowledge and reflect things we’ve learned. No one person can remember everything. The playbooks will allow us to add things that we learn, so the next person can benefit from the previous person’s experience and avoid the need to ‘recreate the wheel’ or repeat knowledge-gathering.”
McKenzie is further streamlining processes through her redesign of the company’s e-discovery process. The company used to treat every case separately, McKenzie says. There can be a lot of overlap in e-discovery. Rather than gather the same information twice, she’s set up a central repository for all e-discovery-related material, so it is more easily searchable and recoverable. McKenzie has assigned one person, a litigation paralegal, to be the gatekeeper or central point person to help people obtain what they need when they need it.
McKenzie’s team is tackling process improvement one IP area at a time. Now that they have made headway in this area, she says, improving litigation is next on the list.