In Conversation with Paula Stone, VP IP Renewals, MaxVal

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Paula Stone is VP of IP Renewals at MaxVal. With over 25 years of IP industry experience, she is responsible for overseeing patent and trademark renewal operations, managing strategic accounts, and delivering exceptional customer service.

Below is our interview with Paula where she shares what initially drew her to the space, her thoughts on the state of the industry, challenges facing IP departments, and what to look for when selecting an IP renewals partner.

Can you share your background and what attracted you to the IP space?

Paula Stone (Paula): After graduating from the University of Michigan with a business degree, I set out to find a job that combined my interests in international business, law, and technology. I came across an opportunity at Master Data Center, which was later acquired by Thomson Reuters, where I secured a position as a legal customer service representative. And the rest as they say, is history.

I have been dedicated to the field of IP throughout my career. And once you become part of the IP world, you never leave! Its ever-changing nature is engaging and challenging, especially when you combine IP with technology solutions. Whether it’s minor changes to country rules, new treaties like the UPC, or adding software functionality to improve processes, there is always another level to strive for and achieve.  And I truly enjoy solving problems and sharing that knowledge with others, whether it’s with my team or especially with our customers.  

What does a typical day look like for you?

Paula: I spend a significant portion of my day working closely with our customer service and renewal teams. This involves measuring key performance indicators (KPIs), service levels, and identifying ways to enhance our existing services, systems and methodologies. All with the goal of providing the highest levels of service, support and quality.

I also lead the team dedicated to maintaining global IP rules (laws) content for more than 250 jurisdictions for our flagship product Symphony. 

And of course, I often work directly with key accounts to help them drive results. This enables me to keep my finger on the pulse of what is needed, and how the industry is evolving.

Regarding challenges IP departments face in managing renewals, what are you seeing? 

Paula: Most IP departments have been forced to maintain IP data and renewal data across two separate systems, and keeping those systems in sync has been a major challenge. Different vendors have various methods of transferring data, which is inefficient, and not always done consistently or accurately.

One of our competitive advantages lies in the fact that renewals are managed within Symphony, our IP management software solution. Customers don’t need to access a separate renewal portal; everything is integrated into the same system and operates in real-time. Users simply need to update the information in Symphony once, then proceed to the renewal module to initiate payment—all within the same system.

Beyond maintaining accurate data between disparate systems, customers often need assistance with the pruning process, specifically in defining what and when to prune their portfolio. Again, our IP management solution, Symphony, facilitates these processes with ease, whether pruning during the renewal cycle or once a year.   

And finally, I’d say that accurate budgeting is an area where IP departments struggle. Our solution ensures accuracy by pulling exchange rates daily, and staying informed is key to budgeting in our ever-changing economic world.

For a company contemplating switching providers, what factors should they consider when selecting a new renewal provider?

Paula: It goes without saying that the first step for any company is to understand their specific business requirements. But beyond that, I think that there are a number of areas to consider.

Let’s start with technology. Many legacy providers still rely on older technology, which is less adaptable and less configurable. Generating reports may require direct communication with a service desk and waiting for a day or two for the results, rather than having the ability to run them independently. Unlike other IP software systems, Symphony is built on Salesforce, offering extensive configurability and flexibility. With Symphony, users can easily create  dashboards and reports according to their specific needs. 

Check to ensure that a prospective vendor maintains up-to-date IP country rules. Often, people mistakenly assume that all vendors have access to current country rules for renewals, but this requires a team of dedicated researchers to maintain, so it is an area that necessitates attention. 

Also ask about the vendor’s agent network. A strong agent network is imperative since the agents handle data verification and renewal payments. 

Look for fee transparency. It is vital that the amounts are transparent and that the vendor does not add extra fees on top of direct payments or the agent fee for payment processing. Seek to understand the vendor’s approach to currency conversion and other fees, and how these fees will impact the rates eventually paid  for renewals.  Surprisingly, even after all the public information available about hidden fees, customers still focus on service fee comparisons. An apples-to-apples comparison between vendors, including all charges, will yield better data to make an informed decision.   

And of course, having experienced and knowledgeable staff is crucial – they should have a thorough  understanding of patent docketing as it relates to renewals, and specifically EP and PCT requirements (which is how most people file these days). 

Service level and turn around times for inquiries are important; pay close attention to the vendor’s SLA (service level agreements) which should specify response times, escalation paths and agreed-upon penalties if SLAs are not met.  

Last but not least, seek recommendations from companies who have utilized the service before. Hearing about their experiences can provide valuable insight.

Shifting our focus, how have you observed the evolution of IP departments?

Paula: Initially, IP departments primarily consisted of an operations manager responsible for in-house docketing and portfolio management. In the past decade, there has been a significant shift to outsourcing of these activities. Many companies no longer maintain their data, but entrust it to their law firms for management.

A new workforce has emerged that differs from the one that existed 25 years ago, which may be a contributing factor to this transition. There is definitely a need for a more user-friendly system that requires fewer steps and is more intuitive. Fewer clicks with better results.

Finally, what advice would you offer to newcomers in IP renewals?

Paula: For those new to IP renewals, exercise caution when following established practices. Recognize that there is always room for improvement. IP professionals should assess which actions to “start, stop and keep doing”. And it goes without saying, select a partner who can offer best practices and can challenge the status quo, rather than merely replicating existing processes. You never know what improvements can be made with just a few simple shifts to your process.

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