Bruce Schelkopf Pushes Innovation Through Transformation

Bruce Schelkopf takes his role as a “transformation guy” seriously, breaking paradigms and revolutionizing the IP function at ABB

Bruce Schelkopf has led as a technology manager, a commercial business manager, and a chief IP officer at various companies—he’s often referred to as a “rock star” in the IP world. To Schelkopf, helping a business of any size grow through IP is all about transformation. “I’m a transformation guy,” he says.

Starting out as an Edison engineer for General Electric (GE), Schelkopf rose through the ranks before being tapped for the business side of GE, where he saw the gridlock that can arise between functional lines. “I would have key deals for clients ready to go, but when I’d turn everything over for legal review, it would sit for two weeks or more. It was clear that legal partnering with the business was the way forward,” he explains.

Spurred by the lack of momentum, he decided to go to law school at night, becoming an IP attorney himself. A few years later, he was handling IP at IBM, which soon led to global chief IP counsel gigs at Cummins, Ingersoll Rand, and eventually European technology firm ABB. There, he’s spent the past six years driving transformation, implementing a strong IP strategy, bringing digital portfolios to reality, and partnering with the business to leverage IP as a key tool, bringing growth, competitive advantage, and risk reduction to the forefront.

Bruce Schelkopf, Group SVP and Global Chief IP Officer, ABB Photo by Rob Ramseyer

Schelkopf’s IP transformation solutions are exactly what clients he’s worked with have sought. Often, he’s contacted by interested companies facing the conundrum, “We want our IP to do more, but we’re not sure how our IP operation can actually help.”

He notes, “IP transformation at one company really can’t be copied over to another, partly because each company’s purpose, business operations, competitive environment, and culture are unique, and all must be properly balanced and adapted to evolve over time in a company’s IP operation.”

As an IP leader, Schelkopf says, “A properly developed IP operation can do more than ‘move the needle’ in innovative environments. Environments that align legal resources to operate and counsel as business partners deliver effective legal and IP solutions collaboratively and optimize IP workstreams and budgets for efficiency. They create a world-class operating environment that energizes people too.

“We can best perform when IP is aligned with the culture of the company,” Schelkopf explains, noting that he jumped in to learn ABB’s unique culture and long history when he started. He immersed himself in ABB’s research, business, and corporate operations, meeting with stakeholders globally to see where IP could make an impact and how to improve decision-making processes. He made use of Six Sigma, Agile principles, and more. “In effect, our team was applying business tools to legal processes and aligning workstreams to enhance business operations,” he says.

That knowledge of ABB’s culture aided Schelkopf in restructuring the IP function and its processes, which included many aspects like creating a centralized data management system and removing non-value-add activities. This way, virtually everyone in the company can see portfolio information and their IP status at a glance, and the data is integrated with the outside counsel partners, too.

“If you’re on vacation in Paris and you have an idea for an invention, you can access the ‘nerve center’ over the internet, update your idea into the ideation pipeline, and still have time for the Eiffel Tower tour that day,” Schelkopf explains.

None of that strategy would be possible without a strong legal team, he notes. While others may enjoy seeing the god’s-eye view of the company, Schelkopf enjoys the opportunity to dive in and work directly with the businesses.

“We can best perform when IP is aligned with the culture of the company.”

“Whether we have a special strategic team focused on a key technology area, a contract, or M&A event, or a single business unit in need of some dedicated IP TLC, I’m always enthused to jump in and develop IP solutions to their benefit,” he says. “I enjoy bringing IP options to any environment in any technology area: start-up or established, small or large, competitive or really competitive.” And with three engineering degrees, a law degree, and two business degrees, he brings the tools to the table to practice his passion daily.

In Schelkopf’s department, he also encourages his team to “get comfortable being uncomfortable” so they can expand from traditional role definitions. Schelkopf adds that in his role, combining self-mentoring with servant leadership enables the team to work and be successful as a cohesive whole. “We truly run this as a global team where everyone has a place to grow,” he says.

Not only is his legal team skilled and collaborative, but they’re also remarkably diverse, something Schelkopf says with no small amount of pride. “IP teams are traditionally lacking in diversity,” he notes. “We have one of the most diverse IP organizations in each of our locations around the world, and women manage and lead successfully throughout.”

By transforming ABB’s IP operation into a more efficient, open, and transparent team, employees have expressed to Schelkopf that they believe they, too, have the ability to handle whatever IP challenges come their way. “Risk issues get handled earlier, team members become more experienced, and clients tangibly experience the true value of IP as a valued business partner,” he enthuses. “And isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about anyway?”