The Tyranny of the Toos (no. 25 in our list of IP mistakes)

Is there a difference between ‘best practice’ in theory as against the real world?  Should there be?

In the many years I have taught patent strategy, I have often seen people make a mental distinction between sound strategic theory and what people can actually do in practice. I learned about this distinction as a general principle – the so called right way and real way – early in my professional career when I joined the Army.

In the land navigation classroom, we learned the importance of using the terrain to our advantage when we moved, deviating left or right of true course to gain protection or conceal our movement. This was the right way. Out in the field, most new Lieutenants just shot a straight azimuth with their compass to move from point to point, and followed that azimuth straight and true, come what may, right through open fields or into tangles of brush. This was the real way.

The theory was just Too Hard to use in practice – hence the common phrase, “It’s just not how we do things out here in the real world.” So the pattern continued as I entered the IP industry, especially with the idea of patenting strategically. Most people I encountered talked about it. Not as many actually did it. Some industries, like the life sciences, did much better than others.

Having a distinction between the right way and the real way is a huge mistake that can stay rooted in an organization’s processes given the career risk that can develop for any individual who tries to introduce change. Standing at the gate to block change, the individual will often find a Tyrannical Too … sometimes many of them. There are a huge number of Tyrannical Toos, each with its own brand of mayhem. It will take Too Long, it is Too Expensive, Too Confusing, Too Difficult, Too Many, Too Few, Too Sensitive, Too Distracting, in short, the Toos are real tyrants with a legions of managers and their charges too comfortable with the way things are to embrace any suggestion of change.

But maybe I am being Too Critical. When I really sit down and talk it though with IP professionals, I learn that most people would prefer to do things the right way. People in the IP industry are exceptionally bright after all. Their situations often make using sound IP strategy theory difficult. It is very easy to get mired in the day-to-day, another IP strategy mistake we will cover, and that can prevent people with a sound knowledge of strategic theory from using that theory in practice.

There are other Toos also that represent constraints. I soon learned in the field when in the Army that moving in accord with sound navigation theory could take Too Long for the mission at hand, and so sometimes walking the straight azimuth became a calculated risk to take. Things would not change until it became Too Risky to move on a straight azimuth, forcing the need to use the terrain. This, of course, is how you defeat a Tyrannical Too in any situation, IP strategy and otherwise. You harness an even worse Too that works for you instead of against you. Too Hard to align a patent portfolio, for example, can be countered by Too Expensive not to.

Here in, you can enter our world at Think IP Strategy. In the spirit of the movie “How to Train your Dragon,” we learn “How to Train your Tyrannical Too.” While you may defeat one Tyrannical Too with another Too, we can usually do better. In the process of doing better, we want to go beyond making a task that is, for example, Too Hard, easier; Too Expensive, less expensive; Too Confusing, easy to understand; or more, and actually harness the elements that make them Tyrannical Toos for your advantage. If a task like patent portfolio alignment is Too Hard, yet you can do it and perhaps your competitor cannot, that Tyrannical Too becomes a competitive advantage. Maybe you can even raise the standard of what is a best practice, making a Tyrannical Too even more tyrannical for everyone else.

Is there a Tyrannical Too that is giving you a problem in IP? Give us a call. Maybe we can show you how to fly it.

(This is number 41 in our list of IP mistakes and how to fix them.)

[Image credit: Soaptree]

2 Comments on “The Tyranny of the Toos (no. 25 in our list of IP mistakes)

  1. Hi Duncan – This is a dilemma that I think we all find ourselves in from time-to-time. It’s often very tempting to take the “easy” or “field” way of doing things rather than the right, or textbook way. In practice I have found that in hindsight I would never regret doing things the right way, although at the time it felt more difficult than it actually was. Conversely, the shortcut was ultimately more expensive than originally anticipated.

    I enjoyed your linking of your Army, IP, and academic experiences in this article!

    • Hi John – Thanks for your comment. Those last points really hit it too, “felt more difficult than it actually was”and “shortcut was ultimately more expensive than originally anticipated.” Trying to do things the right way can be really hard on people until others understand how important it is. I remember in the Survivor series on one season maybe 10 years back where the contestants voted out of the game first the individual who had gone to the US Navy survival school – probably the best survival school in the world. The former pilot could have hooked them up with food, fire, water, shelter, and more.

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