Roy Maharaj Ericsson patent licensing negotiationsBy Roy Maharaj, Vice President – Global Patent Licensing, Ericsson

One of my first managers had a colorful way of describing intellectual property licensing negotiations: “It’s a belly-to-belly business.”

It’s a great term, as it describes something more intimate, even a bit more uncomfortable, than “face-to-face.” Like two sumo warriors in the ring, you’re in each other’s personal space, sizing each other up, probing for weaknesses and opportunities. It’s difficult to hide anything in such close quarters.

Yet patent licensing negotiations like these are critical to keeping the cycle of innovation in telecommunication moving forward, allowing companies like Ericsson to continue re-investing in research and development. For the licensees, they’re getting access to game-changing technologies for businesses and consumers.

Licensing negotiation was a nuanced, complicated process to navigate even when done through in-person meetings. Then a global pandemic changed everything.

A shift to video, and uprooted relationships

Like every other business, licensing negotiations were put on hold as people and companies around the world dealt with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, eventually transitioning to video conference calls. And despite all the disruptions, COVID-19 could have had a far worse effect on IP licensing negotiation. That’s a credit to how the industry has matured over the previous two decades or so, and how people on both sides of negotiation tables have learned to understand each other.

But the loss of face-to-face communication isn’t without negative effects. We lost some of the humanity of a very human interaction as negotiations went virtual. And there will be a strong desire to return to in-person meetings as the pandemic recedes and companies and governments learn to manage the risks. Licensing, after all, is built on relationships that help us get through negotiations that can at times be tense and stressful.

Considerations for negotiating in a post-pandemic world

Patents and the technologies they bring to life are as important as ever. Here are a few things to keep in mind as those of us in the field of intellectual property licensing start to adjust to the “new normal” of negotiations as face-to-face meetings return.

·      There will be a balance between in-person and virtual meetings. That’s not a bad thing …

Some of the pandemic routines will stay with us. The first reason is an obvious one — the cost savings from not having to travel will be difficult for companies to give back. It’s also important to remember that even though you may feel ready to return to the negotiating table in person, everyone will have different levels of comfort – there may be a medical issue, or there may be cultural sensitivities. Even in a tough negotiation, we should always lead with our humanity.

Additionally, as companies set ambitious sustainability goals, there’s an environmental angle to taking at least some meeting virtual on a permanent basis. There’s also a decreased burden on the individual involved when meetings can be done from home or a local office. As someone who has been doing this for a long time, I can say that those meetings that seem the least necessary – the one where you think, “this could have been a Zoom call,” – can be the most taxing.

·      … But face-to-face communication still has tangible value

Despite the good, productive work that was done over video conferencing since the spring of 2020, something was lost when all in-person meetings were cancelled. There is a real, measurable business value to being able to sit across the table from the other parties in a negotiation, to read body language, to have sidebar conversations, etc. The type of meeting, not just the client or frequency, will also determine whether or not a meeting is virtual or in-person. For example, there are some more technical negotiations, where teams of engineers, patent lawyers, etc. are getting into granular details. Those kinds of negotiations were more difficult to hold over video than high-level business meetings, any may be more necessary to hold in person moving forward.

·      In-person travel will be more important as things begin to open up – even if the same meeting could be virtual down the road

Traveling to meetings in person now feels a little bit like seeing family members again after a long hiatus. That feeling is critical to the relationship building that serves as the foundation of productive patent negotiations. It’s also been a long two years, with a lot of turnover in key roles, and there’s a lot of truth in the old axiom that first impressions matter. So if there are times where you are on the fence about whether or not a meeting needs to be in person, but your counterpart is new, or if it’s been a long time since the last face-to-face encounter, take that trip.

·      When things are virtual/in-person meetings less frequent, check in

I remember telling my team, a few months into the pandemic, do your best to keep business discussions going, but you don’t want your first call to someone in the midst of COVID to be a dry, business call. It’s OK to call just to check in, maybe ask about family a bit more than you’ve done in the past. Even when things can’t be in person, consider making a voice call, as opposed to texting or emailing, just for a warmer touch. We’ll all be traveling less and videoconferencing more moving forward, and it will be that much more important to remember that this is ultimately a very human business – those are other human beings at the negotiating table and behind the computer screen.

To read the original article, follow this link. To learn more about Ericsson’s work in patents and licensing, click here.

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