Unlocking the Power of Patent Data with Will Mansfield of LexisNexis

March 7, 2024

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William Mansfield is the Head of Consulting and Customer Success in Americas + CEMEA for LexisNexis Intellectual Property Solutions. He is responsible for overseeing the negotiation, creation, and delivery of LexisNexis Intellectual Property Solutions’ global consulting work and managing the Customer Success team. He works closely with numerous international and Fortune 500 companies and others to ensure the effective deployment of patent analysis for Business Strategy, M&A due diligence, Portfolio Management, and other cases.

John Shegerian: Do you have a suggestion for a Rock Star Impact Podcast Guest? Go to impactpodcast.com and just click ‘Be a Guest’ to recommend someone today. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. It is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com. This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.

John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian. I’m so excited to have with us today Will Mansfield, the Head of Customer Success for the U.S. and Europe for LexisNexis. Welcome, Will, to the Impact Podcast.

Will Mansfield: Thanks, John. Thank you very much for welcoming me. I really appreciate being here and talking with you.

John: Oh, well, thanks. I’m sitting here in Fresno, California, in the USA, and you are in Germany today.

Will: Exactly. I’m not originally from Germany, but it’s a wonderful place to be, so I’m happy to be here.

John: Speaking of being originally from, where did you grow up? And how did you embark on this wonderful and important journey with LexisNexis?

Will: Yeah, so I’m originally from the U.K. I grew up around Oxford and spent a lot of time in that part of the U.K. However, I moved to Germany about eight or nine years ago. My wife and I wanted to move to Europe, and Germany seemed like a fantastic place to move to. We’ve been very, very happy here.

John: That’s wonderful. That’s an interesting title you have: Head of Customer Success. In our sixteen years and with over two thousand guests on this show, we’ve never had the Head of Customer Success. What does it mean to lead the iconic and great brand that you represent, LexisNexis?

Will: Yeah, customer success is becoming a more common function, particularly for online service providers. When you think of media streaming services or the like, even for us, ensuring our customers are successful and happy and using the product in a way that leads to their success contributes to better brand recognition. It leads to customers saying to their colleagues or friends, ‘This is a good company,’ and they want to buy our services. We are successful as a business when we make our customers successful. And that’s what my team and I do. We come from a consulting background, so I think our customer success approach is even more involved than that of many other organizations providing some customer success service. We genuinely want to understand the challenges our customers face and actively suggest solutions that they can achieve with the products they subscribe to. They don’t have to learn everything about what we do; we learn about them and then actively suggest solutions for them.

John: I come from a family of lawyers; both my children are lawyers, and my brother is a lawyer. Can you talk a bit about whether LexisNexis is specifically for the legal profession or is it much wider than that?

Will: Yeah. When people say LexisNexis, they mostly think of LexisNexis Legal and Professional — that company that may have sold big volumes of books in the past and today sells and provides solutions in the legal space. I mean, at LexisNexis IP (intellectual property), where I work, we do something similar, but we focus on intellectual property. We are part of a larger organization, RELX, that also includes Elsevier, the publisher of scientific literature — that’s how most people interact with them. However, they also engage in activities similar to what we do with intellectual property in scientific literature. So, we have some interesting collaborations with them as well.

John: Could you talk a little bit about LexisNexis, specifically your division, Intellectual Property Solutions, and the trend of sustainability? I understand that sustainability is a significant focus at Intellectual Property Solutions within LexisNexis. With no pun intended, what’s the nexus or the connection between sustainability and LexisNexis intellectual property IP?

Will: Yeah, so patents, which is what we cover, are the primary kind of intellectual property that we look at. Patents provide a unique window into what a company is doing. Unlike marketing material, investor communications, or product data sheets, which can be biased toward specific groups, patents have to be truthful. They are written in a way that is understandable but describes the technology they cover. Additionally, they undergo examination by the patent office, where unnecessary language is rejected and the validity of the statements within is checked. Patents are only granted if they are achievable.

For instance, you can’t patent a perpetual motion machine. Therefore, patents serve as a unique and unbiased window through which we can understand what an organization is doing. This lack of bias makes patents a valuable tool, particularly in contrast to the potential ‘greenwashing’ that occurs in the sustainability space. That’s why patents align well with examining sustainability practices. We can study all companies and discern where they are investing and where their dollars are going in terms of R&D spending. Patents serve as a product of that innovation, a tangible result of their R&D efforts. This allows us to gain insights into their practices, understand what they’re doing, and see where they’re putting their efforts.

John: The two words that come to mind are trust and truth. There’s a truth to the patents that is logical and holds value. So, it’s also a great way of measuring the assets of an organization. Correct?

Will: Correct. The majority of assets that organizations hold today are intangible — things that aren’t physical assets like stock, factories, or vehicles. They are knowledge, software designs, or patents. Patents play a huge role in the ability of a company to have an invention, and the sole ability to leverage that invention is a significant asset that allows them to operate their business. Many organizations couldn’t operate or would not be anywhere near as successful without having that. Therefore, patents are the cornerstones of products and business practices in many industries.

John: That’s interesting, and for our listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we’ve got Will Mansfield with us today. He is the Head of Customer Success for the U.S. and Europe for LexisNexis Intellectual Property Solutions. To find Will and his colleagues, you can go to lexisnexisip.com. Talk a little bit about sustainability because I’ve been deeply involved in it, and our experience as a prominent recycling company spans over twenty-one years. Sustainability, as a concept, can be interpreted in various ways, ranging from a broad to a narrow perspective now. Will, when you’re examining sustainability and determining how to benchmark it, you encounter a plethora of new alphabet super-terminologies.

There’s BSG, Circular Economy, the transition from a linear to a circular economy, and concepts like Planet Positivity. Additionally, there’s a wave of new regulations emerging from the United States, including those from the SEC, and Europe has already published its set. Not to be overlooked are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Talk a bit about where you fall in here and how you approach sustainability, narrowly or widely, to help benchmark what sustainability means at LexisNexis.

Will: Yeah. The problem you highlight regarding these various methods is how we started looking at this. We aimed to support investors in creating portfolios of stocks from sustainable organizations. The challenge they faced was determining which companies and organizations were genuinely sustainable because there was no objective and clear definition available for them to use. That’s where we stepped in. Patents could provide us with insights into what these companies are truly doing, but we still need a framework to determine whether a patent covers sustainable innovation or not. Most sustainability metrics or reports result from expert analyses or opinions, and while there’s some truth to all of those, sustainability is a complex topic that evolves and scales.

If we look at electric cars, which are generally seen as a sustainable option, the question arises: where are we getting the raw materials for them? This can become questionable very quickly. If, for instance, tomorrow we declare that everyone needs an electric car, acquiring the necessary raw materials would become highly questionable and probably unsustainable. Sustainability changes with scale; it changes over time, and it’s influenced by practices and the level of development within specific industries. Therefore, there needs to be a huge effort to keep track of these changes, ensuring input from all parties, opinions, and analyses to assess what should be counted and what should not.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals represent the current culmination of fifty years’ worth of work on sustainability frameworks. It is the latest iteration resulting from decades of effort, incorporating input from countries and regions, both governmental and non-governmental entities, and contributing corporations. This massive input has been synthesized into the goals and the overall framework, making it an extremely detailed initiative. The goals at the highest level are fairly straightforward to grasp, but beneath this, there are detailed targets outlining exactly what the UN aims to achieve. The organization has established extremely detailed metrics and methods for capturing data on each of those targets and assessing whether they are met or not.

Additionally, there is a wealth of policy guidance and supporting documents that countries or companies can use to work towards specific goals. The framework is extremely detailed and well-aligned across various actors. This provided us with an exceptionally robust framework to map the patterns. I mean, at LexisNexis, we — I — are not authorities in sustainability; we’re experts in patents. That’s our forte. Therefore, the UN SDGs allow us to align with something very solid and well-constructed, and then we can contribute our expertise where we excel.

John: Let’s run our audience through an example of how a company engages with LexisNexis. Suppose I am the CEO of a biosciences company in Silicon Valley, surrounded by genius and creative engineering minds. We’re in the process of creating some of the next generation of medical devices that will have a significant impact on this planet and benefit our future patients. I have eight patents that we filed over the last six years. Would I then engage with LexisNexis IP to understand where I am in my journey regarding the true up and the true value of these assets to the future viability of our company before we go public and become a much bigger entity?

Will: Yeah. That’s certainly something organizations have done with us. A company that is, in that example, looking for investment or looking to go public needs to speak about what assets they have and how they are valued. What are they compared to others as well. We can say what the value of the technologies underlying those patents is. We have methods for doing so. We can assess whether their activities align with the sustainable development goals. We can also analyze how they compare to their peers. How does this company compare to others that are out there? Are they more or less innovative? What is the trajectory that they are on?

Who might be competitors in that space? We do that for those kinds of smaller-sized entities, at least in terms of patents. We also support medium-sized entities and even very large entities that have tens or hundreds of thousands of patents. We also support governmental organizations as well. We work with the European Commission. We use the products to assess if mergers or acquisitions should be allowed to go through. Will they have too much of an impact on the innovation landscape and cause some kind of monopoly, for example?

John: Oh, so you’re an advisor to both public and private organizations, as well as to government entities and other governing bodies on the viability of third-party organizations.

Will: Yeah, that is the window that patents allow us to look through. They give us the ability to understand what people are doing, perhaps even what they don’t want us to know, and to truly value them in a more objective way.

John: I would like to begin by discussing the people involved in your company, particularly your employees. Are they all patent lawyers or experts in patents? Once we have covered this topic, I would like to explore the great technology that sets you apart from your competitors.

Will: No, not all of our employees are patent attorneys or similar. I’m an economist and trained as a business analyst. I look at businesses and understand what they’re doing, their trends, and how to forecast that going forward. Before working at LexisNexis IP, I worked at a company called Hanwha Q CELLS. It’s one of the major manufacturers of solar modules and cells. There, I did an R&D strategy. What’s the late stage in the R&D pipeline? What are our competitors bringing out?

What can we bring to the market to maintain our competitive position and premium price point? We looked at patents, but in our patent function, there was a very traditional function that just went through the legal process and didn’t step beyond that. Only after joining LexisNexis IP did I see what was possible and how that information could have contributed to what I was doing. That’s what we want to enable people to do. We want to enable law professionals to have better insights to provide improved guidance to their clients. We want to empower corporations to be able to use this information to make excellent strategic decisions about their businesses.

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John: Now that we’ve discussed the people side of it, let’s talk about your technology and database. It allows your clients to have the best and most accurate information on other people’s IPs and patents as well as their own.

Will: Yeah. In principle, all patent data is public and available, and that’s true. You can go to the U.S. Patent Office, the U.K., or the German Patent Office website and look up any patent you like. Patents fundamentally are a deal with society. I disclose my invention, and you give me exclusivity over its rights, so I contribute to the knowledge of society [crosstalk] with my invention.

John: Sort of a social, legal contract between both, right?

Will: Exactly. So, that information exists, but to say, broadly, what is an organization doing or what is technology doing, we need to aggregate that data from all the regional patent offices and process that into something consistent and usable. Companies will file for patents in their subsidiaries’ names. Some companies will actively try to hide the ownership of their patents so that people aren’t aware of who owns them, and then they can use them to litigate or something similar. Thus, we need to cut through all that information to determine who owns what, what technologies they are using, and whether they are active or not.

Patents come with a lifespan, requiring periodic fees for maintenance. The active status of patents serves as a valuable indicator of a company’s portfolio strength, shedding light on the technologies they prioritize for development and those they choose to uphold in their holdings. Beyond this, examining the regions worldwide where these patents are active provides insights. By analyzing the locations of inventors or the strategic choices companies make in filing and protecting patents, we can discern the markets where they have a presence, including factories or significant consumer bases. In essence, our work involves aggregating information from various global patent offices, making it easily accessible for analysis.

My team and I assist individuals in comprehending this data. Even seasoned patent professionals, deeply immersed in the U.S. intellectual property landscape, might lack insight into the workings of the Japanese or European systems. While they possess extensive knowledge of the U.S. system, I can provide valuable assistance in elucidating the global panorama and its intricacies.

John: Will I be amiss in my questioning if I don’t ask you about the trend and the use of AI? Is AI used by LexisNexis IP to perform tasks such as parsing, aggregating, and communicating the information your clients need and want?

Will: Yeah, many of our traditional solutions don’t use any AI. For tasks such as ownership correction and maintenance, we have a dedicated team of people who thoroughly handle those aspects. Regarding the sustainable development goals, we have experts who have developed specific methodologies for identifying patents aligned with those goals. However, we recognize the significant value AI brings. We are actively incorporating it to enhance the capabilities of our tools.

One notable acquisition is Cipher, which is currently being integrated into our main product, PatentSight. This integration enables users to input examples of patents or specific technology descriptions, and the system, leveraging AI, returns relevant examples. Users can then confirm or guide the system, allowing it to craft a tailored search. While there might be reservations about ceding too much control to machines, it’s crucial to understand how to harness AI for increased productivity. In our experience, the machine often identifies patents that human analysts might miss — random combinations of words that may seem inconsequential to us but hold significance for the machine.

Therefore, leveraging AI is essential, but it’s equally important to use it judiciously. We aim to empower individuals with AI, recognizing that there are cases where human intervention remains crucial. For instance, in our ownership harmonization process, the team plays a critical role in ensuring accuracy and understanding the intricacies behind each decision.

John: Will, how many years ago did you join LexisNexis?

Will: I joined LexisNexis about six years ago now.

John: Could you talk about the growth of this industry? It’s not often covered in the media, and I haven’t encountered this kind of service or industry before. Please share some insights into how the industry has evolved, especially within LexisNexis, since you’ve been there.

Will: Patents themselves are undergoing significant growth. Until recently, the Chinese government provided subsidies, tax breaks, and other incentives to patentees in China, resulting in a substantial increase in the number of filings there. However, even without subsidies in other countries, the patent landscape remains highly active. The global patent count is substantial, and this number continues to grow steadily. From that perspective, there is a significant challenge in understanding which patents are relevant and valuable.

The estimate is that about 20% of patents provide a meaningful return to their owners, while the remaining 80% do not. Identifying which patents belong to that 20% category becomes increasingly challenging, especially as various organizations more widely leverage patents. It also widens our scope of what we can see and who we can learn about. That’s where tools like what I’ve been talking about, mostly PatentSight, allow companies — and not just patent professionals, but organizations or people involved in business or organizational strategy — to understand what the world is doing, what our competitors are doing, and even who our competitors are in some cases.

Particularly in emerging industries, if you think about electric cars or autonomous driving, there are so many players entering these markets from various technological or other directions. Even knowing who your competitors are can be a challenge these days, and it’s something that we can cut through with patents as well.

John: So interesting. I understand you cover the U.S. and Europe, but you also have an Asian division, which includes China and its methodologies. I’m not here to advocate whether they’re good or bad methodologies, but considering China’s position on patent issues, does that make part of what you do more challenging when customers are trying to prove or disprove the value of a patent in China?

Will: Yeah, navigating this landscape is indeed a significant challenge. Whether you’re contending with a competitor or exploring a technology to leverage in China, sifting through the multitude of patents is an intricate task. It requires a method to pinpoint the truly relevant and valuable ones. Fortunately, we offer solutions tailored for this purpose, equipped with metrics and methods precisely designed to cut through the complexity. Without such tools, unraveling this web of patents would be virtually impossible. While the surge in patents has undeniably generated considerable noise, it has also been a catalyst for substantial innovation in China.

Our comprehensive report, featured in a World Trade Organization publication, delves into the evolution of global innovation and the intricate connections among nations. Notably, the analysis reveals a shift in China’s trajectory — becoming progressively less dependent on foreign innovations, reducing citations from other countries, and increasingly relying on and developing their own technology. This trend not only signifies a degree of independence but also charts a distinct path forward for China. Once again, these insights are discernible through the patterns of citations within the patent data.

John: Will, with a promising career ahead of you, especially in this booming era of patents, what lies ahead for the LexisNexis Intellectual Property Solutions division? Could you share any initiatives or projects that genuinely excite you and motivate you to start your day?

Will: As I mentioned at the very beginning, we are part of RELX, and that also includes Elsevier. Something that will be on our long-term roadmap is bringing together the scientific literature data and the patent data. I think these two sources of information give a much more complete view of all of the technological innovation and development happening in the world. Capturing not just patented innovations that may be commercialized but also delving into the research phase preceding patent filings or commercialization.

Integrating these realms will unveil insights currently inaccessible. Analyzing developmental trends and identifying players in early-stage innovation will enhance our ability to assess organizations and research bodies more accurately. I’m very confident that RELX is one of the few organizations that can meaningfully do that. Not a lot of organizations have access to that scope of information that they could bring together, and certainly, that long-term output and that long-term outlook are what make me excited to work for this organization.

John: The integration of scientific literature data with patent information in the database search holds promising potential. However, ensuring both verification and optimal efficacy is crucial. Are you relying solely on science-based information, or does it include well-documented anecdotal information from reputable sources? What specific data points are considered essential in merging patent data with other existing information to enhance the search and make it a more powerful IP tool than what is currently available?

Will: Yeah, well, IP, as I mentioned, undergoes examination by patent offices, providing a method of validation. Elsevier and similar entities use tools that select well-regarded journals. However, there should be a method on their part to determine the gold standard information, unlike our approach, which relies on patent offices and examiners who are experts in their respective fields.

John: Right. So they’ll create a benchmark for each of the different industries that they’re pulling the information from that will then be footnoted as the higher standard Exeter when the information merges and then delivered to your client base.

Will: Something like this. Yeah.

John: Something like this. Got it. I’m a layman; you’re an economist. We got to simplify this stuff, Will. Come on! I’m just a business guy. Oh, that’s wonderful, though. This tool and role are truly pivotal and fascinating, especially since I was previously unaware of its existence. It’s an invaluable service, and I sincerely thank you for dedicating time today to shed light on the significance of patents. You provide crucial information to companies, influencing sustainability and playing a pivotal role in benchmarking the sustainability of your clients or their competition, adding another layer of importance.

Your insights have made a complex subject more accessible, and I genuinely appreciate that. Just absolutely fascinating stuff, and thank you, Will, for making a fairly complicated subject understandable to folks like me and our audience members. For our listeners and viewers who want to find Will Mansfield and his colleagues at LexisNexis in the Intellectual Property Solutions division, please go to www.lexisnexisip.com. Will Mansfield, I just want to say thanks for your time today. Thank you, LexisNexis, for making the world a better and more interesting place, and we hope to have you back one day on the Impact Podcast.

Will: Thanks, John.

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