Often the greatest value of a company is not its buildings and equipment but its plans and creations.
A firm’s intellectual property (IP) – its collective ideas, inventions and brainpower – is not always easily measured and often overlooked. Safeguarding it and maximizing its potential can give businesses – especially those in the life science and health care fields – significant value and bargaining power. IP “is one of the most readily tradable properties in the digital marketplace,” according to the Business Dictionary.
“Look at large companies, like big pharma, big medical supply companies, big healthcare supply companies,” notes Kimberlie Cerrone, an American who has worked as an attorney, executive and consultant in the field of IP. “All of them make big ticket investments and they tend to think of IP as an important barrier that protects their investments. They want to see IP [plans] in place. For software and internet companies it is less important, but in healthcare technology, there always has been an emphasis on IP protection. When they [companies] go public, their IP is always of value.”
More than 35 years in Silicon Valley
While currently Cerrone is concentrating on her new digital health care company, Tiatros Inc., in San Francisco, California, she continues to consult and assess IP for companies and calls herself “a professional dealmaker and IP strategist.” She has graduate degrees in neurochemistry, business and law, has spent more than 35 years working in California’s technology incubator Silicon Valley and is a subject matter expert for the U.S. Departments of Commerce and State.
“I helped companies develop and monetize their IP portfolios. I like thinking about how to monetize it.”
In the case of digital therapeutic companies, most achieve liquidity when they are acquired by a larger company, she said. “I am a fan of making careful investments to protect therapeutic companies.”
IP strategy is a business strategy
Companies need to understand that IP strategy is a business strategy, not a legal one, Cerrone stressed. “IP dollars should be invested in driving revenue, and most of the time your company’s IP attorney doesn’t understand enough about your business to help you do that,” she said. “When developing your claims strategy for a patent application, think carefully about what you don’t want your competitors to be able to do.”
“When planning your patent strategy, always be thinking about what the people who head mergers and acquisitions for the five or six larger companies that you most hope will acquire your company are likely to be interested in over the next few years,” Cerrone added.
Spend the trademark budget carefully, she added. Emerging companies should invest their limited resources in a small number of very carefully selected marks.
“Invest your money in patent-protecting the innovations that you’re introducing in your products and services, that your customers value, because they enable them to improve their own business solutions,” she notes.
Bring a solution to the market
Her advice to potential entrepreneurs is: “Don’t start a company because you want to be an entrepreneur,” Cerrone says. “Start a company because you want to solve a problem that must be solved. Focus your resources on bringing a solution to market. Define your problem carefully. The devil is in the details. The market may force an unanticipated change in your problem definition at any time. Welcome this every time.”
Filling gaps in mental health care
Cerrone’s newest venture, Tiatros, is using secure social networks to fill gaps in mental health care for veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions. She started the company after one of her sons, who was serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq, told her about the lack of follow-up care for soldiers with traumatic brain injuries or PTSD.
Cerrone enlisted engineers from Silicon Valley to develop a secure social network using cloud-based computing and created “Tiatros CarePods” within it for clients to receive evidence-based psychotherapeutic programs. Everyone’s identify is verified and there are strict controls on access, it is easy for people to communicate, share their stories, exchange strategies and practice better ways of coping.
“Then we can teach people cognitive behavioral therapy and get them to practice it,” Cerrone said. “We have a portfolio of psychotherapeutic programs offered over eight sessions, typically with 12 patients in a group,” The groups could include 12 young veterans, 12 cancer patients, or 12 victims of sexual assault. “We put people together to develop bonds and to help them recover together.”
Among the psychological programs Tiatros offers are those for insomnia, depression, anxiety, addiction, and eating disorders. “The problem is not that we don’t know how to treat and diagnosis these conditions; we don’t have enough practitioners for one-on-one treatment and it is difficult to get people to participate,” Cerrone noted. “But if they complete the course, 80 percent of them benefit.”
Software to facilitate diagnosis
Nils Lindefors, M.D. Ph.D., a professor at Karolinska Institutet and the leader of a research team investigating safe and cost-effective procedures for diagnosing and treating psychiatric conditions and monitoring the outcome of the treatment, talked with Cerrone after her presentation at Digital Health Days in Stockholm and saw potential for Tiatros in Sweden. “I think their approach was interesting, in particular the proposed use of software to facilitate and complement assessments and the diagnostic procedure,” said Lindefors. “A main benefit is the structured and focused treatment for PTSD that may allow for good cost-effectiveness. In Sweden, we have a shortage of good treatment for PTSD, and this may be an area of opportunity for Tiatros.”