Protecting intellectual property (IP) at a company typically means employing a team of attorneys that work to protect patents and innovations or field any challenges that might arise from competing entities. But Andrew Barger, head of intellectual property at Roper Technologies, handles this work alone.
To be fair, he says he does share an admin with four other general attorneys, but he’s the one managing the portfolio of fifty companies from the Sarasota, Florida, headquarters of Roper. The company is a diversified technology company that provides engineered products and solutions for global niche markets. Barger spoke with Modern Counsel about the benefits and challenges of working in a skeletal IP department.
Is working alone—albeit with support from outside counsel—something that you’ve become accustomed to, or is it a challenge for you given that you’ve managed IP teams in the past?
The job fits me. Roper wants very thin corporate overhead for its portfolio companies. Specialists are brought in to handle emergencies in their various areas and to provide direction when needed. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the IP triage unit.
Each day brings its challenges. I have set conference calls and meetings, but apart from that, I rarely have a clue what issues I will deal with on a daily basis. My job never leaves me feeling totally “comfortable.” At the same time, it’s exciting and always interesting.
To add to the challenge, I manage litigation, prosecution, and licensing of the intellectual capital of our companies. I’m a stickler when it comes to clearance searching. It’s very important that our products and software are launched clean into the marketplace from an IP perspective. I also manage the IP budget and travel to our companies. Other heads of IP and outside counsel confess they would not want my job. I just smile.
“The lifetime of patents and the lengthy process to obtain them require s to look ahead fifteen to twenty years and challenge ourselves and business clients to think about the future environment.”
When we first spoke, you talked about the “learned nuance” in what you do and how it “takes discipline and organization to the nth degree.” Can you give me an example of how this discipline and organization comes into play in your role?
I quickly realized that when one company is getting all my attention, the other forty-nine are not. So I’m unable to spend too many hours exclusively focused on any one issue. You’ve heard of helicopter parents. Well, I’m a helicopter IP attorney. The days of my early career when I used to lock myself in my office for forty hours to write a patent application are a distant memory. It’s almost funny when I think about it. I thought I was so busy back then.
Apart from day-to-day issues, organization is vital. When Roper acquires a new company, the new IP has to be loaded into my database. United States and foreign counsel have to be contacted, chains of title have to cleaned up, billing guidelines sent out, new IP litigation sometimes comes in the door, etc. The IP train has to keep moving down the tracks.
What do you miss most about managing a team?
I miss the day-in, day-out camaraderie that an internal team can bring to IP. Technology changes so rapidly that it darts past even recent court rulings. IP law must run alongside technology. I miss being able to bounce ideas off other in-house IP specialists that were on my team. Outside counsel fills that void for me.
Also, one of my biggest joys was fostering and growing the careers of IP professionals who were relatively new to the profession. I get a little of that feeling in helping associates at my firms.
Are there any unexpected benefits of being a team of one?
No one argues with my direction, but that direction had better be right. All IP decisions rest on my shoulders. When I visit the companies, I like to joke that I brought the entire IP department with me. Many days I wish I could clone myself. Being a department of one, I am very nimble and can pivot on a dime if needed. I didn’t anticipate it being quite so smooth in that regard.
What would you say is the greatest challenge that you’ve faced in your role?
Managing the workstream and organizing it. All IP issues come to me, so one of my first agendas was to get a robust database established for tracking our IP around the world. I rely on it heavily as the foundation for all that I do. Once the database was in place, I was able to see our entire IP landscape with the push of a button. I’m surprised at the number of heads of IP at larger companies who tell me it’s not as easy for them because one division or another tracks their IP remotely. My database provides opportunities for me to save money. I have been able to decrease our IP spend by over 10 percent while the IP portfolio has been growing at a 9 percent year-over-year clip.
Do you anticipate a day when you’ll be leading a team again, or do you think you’ll continue to go solo for the foreseeable future?
I envision the role growing into a small IP team as the company continues on its acquisition path. Roper has completed around $6 billion of acquisitions in my time here. A large part of my job is reviewing data rooms for acquisition targets. I then advise the executive team on areas of concern from an IP standpoint. This means providing the costs and timeframe associated with every action, and doing that isn’t always simple when dealing with IP. Let’s face it, IP is not the easiest area of the law to understand for businesspeople. All the IP cards must be laid on the table before any of them are played. Businesspeople need full transparency for legal actions and never has it been more true than when dealing with intellectual capital. No effective IP strategy can be set without tailoring it to the business strategy.