From Management Trainee to IP Manager

Intellectual property rights, “IPR”. I had no idea beyond a vague conception, laughable now in hindsight, what it was when I accepted the job offer for the newly created position of “IPR Manager” after my year as a management trainee. Since most of the time as a trainee is spent either a) learning abbreviations and acronyms or b) nodding sagely pretending that you do know them, I assumed this was perfectly normal. After signing the employment contract, it was straight to the internets to try to find out what this IPR was all about.

I started in Visma all the way back in 2008, just a couple of years after YouTube was released and Facebook was made available for the lay public. If you wanted a tablet, you had to go for Microsoft, and if you had an iPhone you didn’t have multitasking. In this brave new world of innovation, Visma was beginning to gear up for the transition from largely national software- products delivered on DVD’s (hopelessly outdated in 2008, simply vulgar today) to full-fledged international Software as a Service, available anytime from any device. (Humble disclosure: software was, is and will continue to be the Visma group’s biggest source of revenue.) From these developments came the need for some dedicated resources and frameworks for IPR, this peculiar area which somehow manages to be simultaneously very important and very obscure.

Now, you may think- and I admit I did too: “why didn’t they simply hire a lawyer for this”? Well, it just wouldn’t be a management trainee now would it:

Apparently, this was just the kind of thing trainees are for: put some fresh eyes on new or existing problems challenges and add just a bit of power to get things done, with the usual sink-or-swim caveat. Inevitably, a sense of responsibility and ownership follows, and there you are, nicely “caught”.

I.e., the above clichés are true, and exactly the sort of thing you’d want from a trainee programme.

So, having signed & searched a bit, IPR turned out to be neither particularly intellectual in the normal sense of the word, nor indeed property in the normal sense of that word. It did however turn out to be a deep, satisfying area of study, and by now, hopefully, a certain competence.

So what does an IPR Manager do? In practice, it often means working with contracts and the people who sign them; there are distribution agreements, license agreements, third party contracts of every flavour, etc. ad infinitum. Many of these are interconnected and dependent on each other, and owned and/ or operated by different units in different countries, all of which have slightly different laws and regulations. And of course it must all fit in with the technical and commercial aspects of software licensing and business models. (With a caring nod to product management, let us describe these models as “dynamic”.)

This is where I come in, working with everyone from a developer looking at an open source library, to a sales guy having a question about license agreement from a customer, to negotiation of some third-party contract with a product manager. Then there’s the occasional due diligence, and the frequent acquisition, both of which means work with IPR. And of course I have to speak to the controllers when they come asking about some invoice for any of the above.

All of this in a company that is growing like someone took the expression “sky’s the limit” literally.

An enticing prospect indeed.

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