06 June 2015

Five Years of Patentology, or, How I Learned to Love Marketing!

Fifth Birthday CakeToday is Patentology’s fifth anniversary.  It was on 6 June 2010 that I published the very first post on this blog.  It is fair to say that I had very little idea of what I was doing, or just how big a part of my professional and personal life blogging would become.  It simply seemed like a good idea at the time.

I may not have had much of an inkling about the ‘what’ or the ‘how big’, but at least I had some idea of why I was starting my own blog.  Put simply, it was because I hated marketing.  And when I say ‘marketing’, I mean the kind of things in which lawyers, patent attorneys, accountants and other professional service providers have traditionally engaged – activities such as attending ‘networking’ events, ‘researching’ prospective clients, hitting up existing clients for referrals or additional business, handling random enquiries in the vague hope that one of them will be the ‘next big thing’, and (most horrifying of all) cold-calling prospects.

In short, I just could not abide all of that ‘selling’ stuff.  So much do I despise it still, that I cannot help putting almost all of its key terminology in scare quotes.  I know that this is not how everybody feels.  We all know a few magically silver-tongued people who can small-talk like it is an Olympic sport, who love nothing more than getting out and pressing the flesh, and who seem shameless in asking for business, and fearless of the rejection that so often ensues. 

I suspect, however, that most of those people naturally gravitate to sales.  From experience, I would suggest that not too many are completing technical undergraduate degrees, going on to work in research labs, earning PhDs, doing a bit of technical R&D and commercialisation, and ultimately going on to yet more study in order to obtain a specialist law qualification and become a patent attorney.  The type of personality that is drawn to these kinds of experiences – my type of personality – is far more likely to enjoy an evening at home with a good book or a DVD than schmoozing the crowds at a conference dinner.  I have never taken a formal Myers Briggs personality assessment, but my guess is that it would tell me that I am INTJ.  (Whatever that is worth.  I am sceptical of such tools – which is just so typical of an INTJ personality!)

It is hard not to hate something you are not good at, and which goes against your very character and self-image.  So, if I could not bring myself to go to ‘marketing’, I would have a go at getting ‘marketing’ to come to me.  My strengths (as I see myself) are intelligence, knowledge/expertise, creativity and communication.  I love to share knowledge and to exchange ideas – it is small-talk and social conversation that I am not so great at.

In short, I started a blog.

An Opinionated Blog

The great thing about ‘social media marketing’, from my perspective, is that it is not about the ‘hard sell’.  It is about giving people something of myself, and letting them reach their own conclusions about my abilities as a patent attorney and professional advisor.  To be honest, this is an assessment from hindsight.  I do not think I really understood how all this works, at a conscious level, when I started out.  But I would like to think that I sensed it, and that the success of Patentology has not been due purely to simple dumb luck.  And, as time has gone on, that ‘sense’ has turned into some form of conscious understanding.  The idea is summed up neatly in a recent post by Kevin O’Keefe, on his blog Real Lawyers Have Blogs, where he says ‘Blogging is about you, the blogger, not the copy’.

Which is, in a nutshell, why you have always found opinions here at Patentology (and you always will), and not just reports and case summaries.  Some of my opinions, I know, are strong, and occasionally controversial.  I do not much care whether people agree or not (see ‘INTJ’, above). 

Of course, I did not set out with the clarity of Kevin O’Keefe’s post, five years before he wrote it.  Actually what I did was to decide that I wanted to be more like Gene Quinn of IP Watchdog than Dennis Crouch of Patently-O – in terms of blogging style, at least.  When I look now at some of my early posts, I can see that it took some time for me to become even remotely as competent as either of those seasoned professional bloggers (and they are, I note, literally professional at it, in the sense that both make a decent income from advertising on their blogs, which is not a direction I plan on taking). 

But I practised a lot, and gradually (if I do say so myself) got better.  In those early times I was cranking out an average of 15 articles a month, which has proven to be unsustainable for a whole lot of (mostly) good reasons.  What Patentology now lacks in quantity, I like to think it makes up for in quality.

So I had decided (naïvely) that I should just start playing to my strengths, and see how that would go…

Patents Go ‘Mainstream’

It is fair to say that it did not go anything like the way I thought it might.  Long time readers may remember the rather old world design I originally created for the Patentology blog, which says something about the kind of place I expected that it would be.  I suppose I imagined patents to be a fairly esoteric topic, and that the blog might therefore have a relatively exclusive readership.

In my defence (hard as it may be to imagine now) in June 2010 I do not think my insular view was an especially inaccurate assessment of the level of interest in patents within the wider community.  My hope was that some of those people with an interest in patents would be the same people whose attention I might hope to attract in a professional sense, and that the rest would form a small community with whom I could at least share interests and ideas.

But then the ‘gene patents’ debate took off – the fourth ever Patentology post, on 8 June 2010, reported the Federal Court challenge to the Myriad BRCA gene patent in Australia.  And then Oracle America Inc sued Google Inc (a case that is still ongoing, although it is now only about Oracle’s copyright claims). 

Then, in 2011, Apple extended its expanding global patent offensive by suing Samsung in Australia

In 2012, Australian public research institution CSIRO had a big win with its patent covering core aspects of WiFi technology, and was promptly (and unreasonably) accused of being a ‘patent troll’ by Ars Technica.  Indeed, in the time since Patentology was created, the whole ‘patent troll’ issue has risen in public prominence, and has generated some fairly dubious – but undoubtedly popular – claims such as THE US$29 BILLION ‘TROLL TAX’!

This blog has also borne witness to significant patent law reform in Australia and in the US.  I have chronicled IP Australia’s policy shift on computer-implemented business processes.

And that is just a few of the more memorable highlights from my first five years of blogging.

Measuring Success

I would have to say also that while it has been much more work than I had anticipated, it has also been vastly more rewarding.  Blogging has raised my profile – both within and outside the IP profession – to a level I could never otherwise have achieved.  The opportunities, recognition and rewards I have received over the past few years include:
  1. media exposure – in print, online, and on radio;
  2. the opportunity to be involved in teaching university courses to future generations of patent attorneys and IP lawyers ;
  3. a role updating Wolters Kluwer’s CCH Australia patent law commentary;
  4. invitations to present professional development seminars (such as the Legalwise 6th Annual Patent and Trade Marks Conference coming up in Melbourne on 17 June 2015, if you will excuse the shameless promotion);
  5. being the author of the cover story of Issue 52 of IAM Magazine, on the Apple v Samsung patent ‘wars’ (I subsequently serialised the complete article on the blog in April 2012: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V);
  6. named one of Managing IP’s ‘IP Stars’ for patent practice in 2014 and 2015;
  7. named in the IAM Strategy 300: The World’s Leading IP Strategists in 2013 and 2014;
  8. the Patentology blog has been selected by the National Library of Australia for preservation in the PANDORA archive;
  9. Patentology has also been selected for inclusion in BarNet’s JADE.WORLD openlaw initiative (currently in pre-release); and
  10. as of this moment, I have 600 subscribers to my weekly email bulletin, 1717 followers on Twitter, and around 5000 people now visit the Patentology blog at least once each month.
On top of all this, I have learned far more than I would have were it not for all of the research that goes into writing articles for Patentology.  I have met (online and in person) many fascinating people that I would never otherwise have encountered.  I like to think, too, that I have provided an occasionally useful and educational service to people out in the wider community.

And I have succeeded in establishing my own enjoyable and rewarding alternative to all those marketing activities that I used to hate so much!  I receive many referrals and ‘qualified leads’ from people who know me, or have found me, through the Patentology blog.  As a result, I no longer feel the same pressure to spend time on low quality enquiries, or prospective clients who might be better suited to a different style of firm than Watermark.  Furthermore, when I do have to attend those formerly dreaded ‘networking’ events, I feel much more confident that I have something to contribute – it is a particularly great pleasure when someone is aware of the Patentology blog, and makes striking up a conversation so much easier.

As I look back on five years of blogging, I feel proud of what I have achieved.  Patentology has exceeded my wildest expectations.  And while it sounds like a cliché, I am enormously grateful to you, the readers who keep providing me with the affirmation that the work I am doing here is interesting to someone out there, and who have helped to create so many opportunities for me.

Conclusion – The Next Five Years

Before embarking on my next five years of blogging, I would like to finish with an excerpt from the Kevin O’Keefe blog post that I mentioned earlier on, where he says:

People ask me how I find things to blog about. How can you not find things to blog about?

Blogging, as Zinsser might describe it, is “reading with interest about a topic,” sharing what you’ve discovered and offering your take. Blogging is discovery and learning.

Legal blogging, at its finest, is giving of yourself. Rather than providing summaries of the law or the news without any soul, blogging is being authentic. Sharing your thoughts. People will connect with you, not the copy.

I have found this to be true.  If it sounds like something you would enjoy, why not start your own blog?  I can highly recommend it!


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