I am a patent attorney for a large company who has been tasked with formulating Intellectual Property strategies for several of the business groups I am supporting. Although other lawyers in my group have used their own ad hoc processes to do this, I have been thinking about employing a more tried and true method such as SWOT.

My question is: does a SWOT analysis work for constructing something very specialized like this? Does anyone have any experiences of thoughts?

jhack's picture

You can definitely use the SWOT process for an IP strategy. I've used SWOT for product strategy, to great success. Make sure you define the scope of your strategy so everyone knows what the goal is (ie, what should our IP services be?) rather than something grander (like, what businesses should we be in - not your scope).

Good luck,


James Gutherson's picture

SWOT gives a structure to your thinking - another example might be Porters 5 forces.

Also use what the other lawyers have used in the past and mashup a process that works for you.

tomas's picture


I believe that a SWOT is a good tool as it provides some structure. Just bear in mind that a SWOT helps you to define the situation in which you are formulating strategy, by breaking it down across the dimensions of interval versus external and positive versus negative. It does not necessarily provide a good tool in itself for deciding between alternative courses of action.

You then need some other tools to decided what to do about the situation, so the SWOT really provides a starting point. Of course you also need to know what the ultimate objective is.

Other tools you could apply would be things like intellectual property audits (i.e. a list of possible sources and types of IP) and cost/benefit analysis of protecting each item of IP you identify.

KASmithy's picture

Believe it or not, I've seen SWOT analyses created on just about anything from entire careers to relationships. Just be sure to get as specific as possible in your breakdown.

Also, I'm VERY sympathetic to newbies who are trying to decipher all the acronyms and terminologies, so if it's all the same to everyone, I like to post [url=]useful articles or sources[/url].


bflynn's picture

I think it helps you understand it and therefore to formulate plans to optimize your situation. However, for general IP related topics, you can pretty much bet that your situation is the same as your competitors.

I use SWOT in the context of Porter, so let me use Porter to expand on the general IP topic a little:

Threat of Entry - this is the threat of new competitors appearing. The threat is pretty low for you, although not zero. The danger is that someone will come out of the blue with a new disruptive technology that negates your current IP.

Power of Suppliers - your suppliers are your scientist, technicians, artists, etc that create your IP. The threat from them is that they will take their ideas elsewhere. Your general IP strategy should cover the idea of locking down their ideas as much as feasible as well as covering way to inspire them to stay with your firm.

Power of Buyers - the buyers of your IP is your product dev group, publisher, distributor or other group. Ultimately, its also your customers. You have a fairly tight grip over them if you're dealing with patented material, less so with copyrighted material. If you own the patent on the Super-Widget and you're the only place in the world to buy one, they can either pay your price or go without.

Threat of substitutes - again, if you're dealing with patents, then the threat of substitutes should be lower, but not absent. A customer could always decide to purchase a regular Widget instead. The substitute is whatever your buyers could replace your product with. If you're dealing with copyrighted material, the threat of substitute is other material on the market that serves roughly the same need as yours.

Rivalry - together, these make the rivalry aspect. Rivalry is actually usually pretty low in the IP market in a business. There is a lot of control over your IP, but you do have to be concerned with your competitors position too.

So, what this says your SWOT is:
Strength: When you have IP, its yours.
Weakness: Not having IP, losing IP, substitutes to your IP
Opportunity: Monopoly like price power in you area.
Threats: Substitutes for your IP, accidental infringement on competitor's IP.

Now form your strategy, which is probably already being done by everyone. Make sure you lock up your IP so it doesn't leave. Make sure your product dev groups understand competing IP. Make sure you exploit your IP to the maximum extent, including making sure those products get developed and marketed so you can get that incredible pricing power.

This is the 15 minute analysis - I might have missed something.

But this is generic to all IP groups.

tlhausmann's picture

[quote="KASmithy"]Believe it or not, I've seen SWOT analyses created on just about anything from entire careers to relationships. [/quote]

It works. I developed one for our IT operation and it's relationship to the broader operation the division serves. It is updated annually.

rachaelip's picture

Thanks for the input.

Now my follow-up: Should I spend as much time on an IP strategy as suggested in the SWOT podcast? I think the managers I am working with are envisioning these things being churned out in an afternoon of meetings. I know that isn't realistic, but does it really have to take as long as suggested?

jhack's picture

In my experience, a really good strategy is rarely evident from an afternoon of meetings. If it were that easy, you'd already have it figured out.

You might be able to shorten the elapsed time if you can schedule things more quickly. The total effort involved, however, should not be shortchanged.


AManagerTool's picture

[quote]does it really have to take as long as suggested?[/quote]

It takes as long as it takes. Mark and Mike used a larger example to illustrate the use of SWOT. Your mileage may vary.

That said, SWOT IS NOT STRATEGY. Remember that it is only used to draw the map. You still have to organize the treasure hunt, break out the shovels and actually dig up the chest.

Just because you have a good SWOT analysis does not mean that you have a good strategy.