Three decades have passed since China’s establishment of IP system. The macro environment and demands are now growing mature in all aspects of IPR creation, use, protection and management. Particularly in recent years, the pace of innovation-driven development has accelerated rapidly in the context of public entrepreneurship, and my IP counterparts are now welcoming the best time for career development. According to Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of needs, most IPers in China probably still have a distance from reaching the level of self-realization, no matter long or short. Thus, it becomes necessary for us to think about how to promote career development and seize the opportunities provided by this great era. Of course, a few “big names” of IP practitioners, partners or masters, may have already started the pursuit of self realization. These elites are models for IPers. However, there is not only one path to reach the pinnacle of IP career. With knowledge and experience accumulated by years of practices in the in-house circle, I would try to explore in this article the promotion path for in-house IPers in an all round manner.
Platform: Platform Shapes the Future
Peter Thiel, the PayPal godfather and VC big boy in Silicon Valley, once told us that the secret to the success of venture capital lies in application of the “power law” to explore enterprises who can create the future. This rule also applies to those who want to become winners in their careers.
In ordinary companies and teams, employees can only obtain ordinary development; and in outstanding companies and teams, employees can gain sustained development; while in great companies and teams, people can seize opportunities for exponential development. In China, the classic setting for IP team is functional department, namely, cost center or share service Center. Such a department setting means that the growth of IP team keeps substantially synchronous with the company’s growth rate. It is difficult to gain leaping growth like core sectors. The power law indicates that functional team will be more successful in a rapidly growing first-class enterprise. Peter Thiel said that the power law makes the difference between enterprises far more significant than the difference between roles inside the enterprise. For example, if you hold 100% stock right of a selfestablished company, you would have nothing if the business is closed down. Conversely, if you only hold 0.01% stock right in a company like Google, you will finally obtain more than 35 million US dollars. The timing and decision-making should also follow the power law, which means that key moments are far more important. For example, a secretary joining eBay in 1996 received 200 times more shares than a senior executive joining eBay in 1999. The stock of a painter who made wall graffiti for Facebook office in 1996 would worth 200 million US dollars, while a talented engineer may only get 2 million US dollars if he joined Facebook in 2010.
China’s in-house IP circle does not lack stories in which platforms can shape the future. Most of the IP practitioners who joined the IP teams of Foxconn, Huawei, ZTE, Tencent, Alibaba and other leading companies between 2000 and 2003 have accumulated substantive industrial experience and considerable career advantages. In the context of Internet-plus era, those who joined Ali, Tencent and other Internet giants in an early stage have also accumulated a significant amount of wealth. The public entrepreneurship era provides more opportunities for IPers to develop from professional managers to partners. Risks and opportunities always go hand in hand, so that a person who wants to wear the crown must bear its weight. The future of the business world is often in the hands of small and medium enterprises or start-ups that master the core competitiveness.
The innovation, brand-building and operation of these enterprises require the in-depth involvement of IP professionals. Whether the IPers could explore these opportunities and take risks to pursue exponential growth might become the largest watershed for career development in IP 3.0 era.
Position: Position Comes from Value
In Chinese companies where the rank setting are standardized and seriously treated, the general title for head of IP department is director, manager or senior manager. Only director could be regarded as senior management position. Other titles all belong to middle or grassroot management positions. This reflects the current awareness of Chinese enterprises on the value of IP department. In comparison, the positions of the head of IP sectors in American and European companies are much higher, typically regarded as senior vice president, vice president or senior director. In some innovation-oriented or brand oriented European and American companies, the head of IP sector could even be titled as the executive vice president, a member of the top management who report directly to the president. In the current setting of IP team stationed by American and European companies in the Chinese market, only a few leaders are dispatched from abroad. The majority are selected or trained from the increasingly matured local talent teams. As far as I know, local IP team leaders of European and American enterprises in China are often appointed as director or senior director. A few of them enjoy a higher position as vice presidents, while some hold a lower position as senior managers.
When I was working at ZTE years ago, the head of legal affairs department at that time once told the IP team to “make contributions and hold the position”. Over a decade, the head of the department has been promoted to the vice president. Although many of the previous IP team members do not work in the team any more, I still keep his words in mind. Feng Lun said that greatness must be “boiled by time”. After boiling, whether the dish is delicious seafood soup or useless paste depends on the value of the raw material. Job is like a casserole while time is like a stove. Responsibilities, efforts and thoughts we put into our daily work are raw materials in the casserole. We should identify with the company’s vision, dedicate to the daily work with sense of mission and responsibility, make long-term plans and implement decisions actively and precisely. Only through these efforts can we realize the value of IPers and achieve a more favorable position.
Value is not derived from the possession of resources but from the creation of wealth. For inhouse IPers, the core value is the ability to achieve commercialization of various IP rights in business operations and extract commercial profits via these operations. In this way can IP value be a solid backing for IPer’s position in a company. Of course, value and position are also complementary. For example, a bottle of mineral water is sold at 2 yuan in a supermarket, 10 yuan in a restaurant, and even 20 yuan in a bar. The same content at different platforms and positions could be valued quite differently. IPers should find the most suitable platform and position to play their IP expertise, so that their value can be realized.
Package: Payment Reflects Capability
Although many years ago media reports took patent agent as gold profession, in fact as far as I know, in-house IPers could only earn a white-collar income. There are many factors that affect the income of in-house IPers, including industry, location, qualification, market performance, pay system, etc. In general, the income for in-house IPers has increasingly grown in recent years. With respects to the industry, internet giants, cutting-edge mobile internet operators as well as industries with high competition barriers have significant advantages in terms of payment package. The stock options in these new industries are far more attractive than a large number of traditional industries. In terms of geographical location, Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen are the main gathering cities for innovative companies and brands. Thus the absolute value of packages for in-house IPers in these three cities is much higher, if we don’t consider the regional consumer price index. Other factors may include the accumulation of experience and the luck in two-way choice.
As far as I know, a high-ranking IP position in foreign-invested large companies in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, etc. can earn one million RMB a year, which is at a normal standard. In some domestic leading companies, it is common for a high-ranking IPer to earn more than one million due to the strong performance of stock options in the capital market. It is said that a foreign company in luxury industry was once looking for an IP assistant with one or two year working experience and it offered a salary of two hundred thousand a year plus several handbags for free. Obviously, qualifications and experience are the quick measuring scales used by employers or HR to evaluate candidates in the labor market. The time period of three, five, eight, ten and fifteen years are usually regarded as five stages which symbolize different qualifications and experience of the candidates. Unless one has very special ability or good luck, time enduring would be an unavoidable experience for in-house IPers in their career development.
Each company has its own characteristics with different visions, corporate culture, organizational structures, behavior patterns, team spirits and assessment methods. As long as the employee has no obvious conflict with the company values, promotion and salary would be mainly determined by work performance and contributions. Inhouse IPers must clearly understand the company’s core business mode, and find out how IP operation could reduce risks, streamline processes and improve performance for this core mode, based on which IPers could make working plans and objectives. When looking back at the booming IP teams and business in China’s leading enterprises, no matter in the earlier electronics industry, communication industry, household appliance or the recent developed internet industry, smart home industry or mobile internet industry, their IP operations are all deeply corresponded with their main business, thus bringing more resources and opportunities for the development of in-house IPers.
“No mountain is too high for a man who tries to climb, and no road is too long for a man who tries to walk”. We have already set out and will eventually arrive. Since the most picturesque view is always at the peak, I wish every in-house IPer could reach the peak of the “3P mountain” (Platform + Position + Package) in the promising era of public entrepreneurship with your enduring perseverance.
(Translated by Li Yu)