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Business Skills Boost Strategic Value Of IP

Business skills to boost strategic value of IP
From laser to intellectual properties, Dr Allen Yeo is a man of many roles and expertise

FINDING innovations and protecting them from copycats is the business skill of Allen Yeo Chiew Beng, scholar, physicist, professor, business consultant and strategic adviser on intellectual properties to multinationals.

Dr Yeo, 42, holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering (Laser Biophysics) from the University of Glasgow in 1999, and an Executive MBA from the SIM-State University of New York at Buffalo in 2010.

The former research scientist with Singapore’s Defence Science Organisation, now works as senior director in global business development and consulting with World Intellectual Property Service (WIPS), a Korean-based consultancy helping over 3,000 organisations and firms in patent research and information.

On why an individual would want an MBA despite attaining a PhD, Dr Yeo says, “Whatever technical qualifications that you have, you still need to develop the business aspects of your work. You can be a good professional but you need business skills to be an all-rounded success.”

Value of an MBA

One such skill that an MBA programme teaches is strategic management which includes studying an issue and conducting a SWOT (strength-weakness-opportunities-threats) analysis in order to find important answers such as business viability and sustainability.

“Before my MBA study, my way of doing business was nothing more than ‘cowboy’ activities based on instincts and with no proper analysis. With a knowledge of strategic management, I can use data from, say, daily sales revenues, to generate a set of assumptions that are in turn used to forecast trends and outcomes.

“An MBA also helps me to look at the business aspect of the organisation, and not just its technology strength,” Dr Yeo notes. Many companies were great in technology but lousy in business, the most well-known being Kodak which invented the digital camera but went out of business because competitors make better, more desirable digital cameras!

What’s your IP worth?

Hence, a crucial area of his work is helping high-tech customers audit of their intellectual properties, conduct valuation (how much their patents are worth) and how to protect them.

“If a technology is deemed hard to copy, you can keep it as a trade secret without undergoing the expense and trouble of acquiring a patent for it. But if it is a product like a touch screen that can be reverse-engineered, then you should quickly file a patent.”

Sometimes you may need “patent-fencing”, Dr Yeo says. “For instance, if you want to launch a new printer because you have invented a special ink nozzle, it is not enough that you have a patent for the nozzle. You must also have patents for all the important parts of the printer as well, including the ink and ink cartridges, and even the design of the packaging. This makes it difficult for competitors to copy your complete product.”

Another business expertise of Dr Yeo is to advise clients on whether to build every one of their own product components or to simply buy the licence from someone else. “You must weigh the trade-off in cost vs. opportunity.”

It’s not the end of the story, yet. Before your new product sees the light of day, you also need to do an IP search to make sure what you have developed on your own does not violate someone’s existing patent, Dr Yeo emphasises. His company, WIPS, has a database of over 80 million patent documents to provide a fairly comprehensive search for its clients.

Value creation

Dr Yeo states that when you market a product, you are banking on only two things – its price and its value-add. “Value creation is what feeds the customer’s need, and value always trumps price,” he adds.

‘A technology-based company that brings value in its new products, is able to price them higher and still able to generate demand. But technology is more than value, it is also about the speed of innovation. Samsung is a shining example. It rolls out new products fast, to satisfy customers. Time is indeed money!”

-- Interview and posted online in August 2013