For most people the term “intellectual property” does not raise visions of thousands of trademarks and patents that must be maintained with payments to countries around the world. But the owners of these patents and trademarks know that to maintain their rights they must pay fees either annually or at other intervals in every jurisdiction where the entity is registered.
So how do companies and other patent holders make sure that their renewal payments, locally and internationally, are on time and meet any updated requirements? They may start out handling this on their own, but if things get too complicated, they often turn to an expert, like Olcott International, which opened a new U.S. headquarters at 176 Tamarack Circle in Skillman last fall to manage renewal services for their intellectual property rights.
Olcott had been located in Weehawken since its founding more than 50 years ago, but recently made the move to the Route 1 Corridor to be closer to potential clients and employees. Several key staffers live in the Princeton area, and Olcott hoped to court business from major producers of intellectual property like Princeton University, the Institute for Advanced Study, and pharamceutical companies. It kept a small office in Weehawken for some of its employees who live there.
Olcott International “dockets,” or uploads, all information about a new client’s patents and trademarks into the Olcott database, free of charge. During the docketing process Olcott’s staff verifies patent numbers, who they are assigned to, and whether they are active, granted, or pending by crosschecking with patent and trademark databases.
Olcott keeps up with law and fee changes in all of the jurisdictions where it files patent renewals, via newsletters from patent offices, information from local vendors, notifications from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and lots of research. “We always stay on top of everything and what we have in the system is accurate,” says Nicola Henkes, senior vice president of Olcott.
When payments are due, Olcott sends clients reminders about payments due; asks them for instructions on whether to pay or not; and, after being instructed to pay, does so on the client’s behalf and invoices the client. Fees are established by individual patent and trademark jurisdictions and are paid to the intellectual property office of a country, either directly or through Olcott’s worldwide network of local vendors.
Olcott International — in intellectual property parlance an “annuity fee provider” — offers these services to corporations of all sizes, multinational and domestic, as well as universities, nonprofit organizations, and even sole proprietors. “No matter how big your portfolio is, every client gets the same treatment,” Henkes says. “We have clients all over the globe and do renewals for every jurisdiction around the world.”
When Henkes came on board in 2010, the business needed restructuring, particularly in terms of updating its technology that was made closer to the company’s founding than to the present day.
Olcott International was founded in 1961 by patent attorney Bernard Olcott, who held the business privately. He died in 2006, and the business continues to be privately held. In the 1970s, the software Olcott used was innovative, allowing founder Olcott to easily handle high volumes of patent renewals and provide some cost savings to his clients. The business was very successful in the 1980s as Olcott drew new clients via his professional and personal connections, some of which grew out of his sailing passion.
But the software was very basic, programmed before the advent of the Internet, and all documents were still sent out as hard copy. Henkes implemented new state-of-the-art software that she was familiar with from earlier in her career and knew was perfect for Olcott’s needs. The software was created by a German company and is used primarily in patent law firms.
Once the new software went live in June, 2015, Henkes says, the whole business became much more efficient. “Everything in operations was overhauled,” she says. “Basically everything was automated and we went to paperless.” The company also implemented online access to client portfolios, an industry standard that allows clients to instruct payments online, obtain reports, view documents, and make changes to data.
The company also made some staff changes, including bringing on Marie Galastro as vice president of marketing to focus on marketing outside of existing client relationships. She is rebranding the company and developing a profile that reflects who the company is and the services it provides. A first step has been the redesign and launch of the new website, www.patentannuities.com, in June, 2015, focusing on search engine optimization and including a button for a free quote that elicits a same-day response from Olcott.
Olcott has seven employees in Skillman, three in Weehawken. Although marketing has been primarily through the Internet and referrals from existing customers, Olcott plans to reach out through newsletters, webinars, and booths at trade shows.
Henkes says, “The new software brought us into the 21st century and made us ready for the requirements that are out there.”
As Henkes made the infrastructure changes, she was careful to maintain business as usual and implement new procedures carefully. “I did a smooth transition so existing clients did not question any changes we had made,” she says, noting that the response has been positive.
Henkes emphasizes that Olcott is a very client-oriented company. “I have been in this business for a very long time, and I can sense problems or questions a client might have, and we try to be a step ahead and provide extra information,” she says, noting that Olcott distinguishes itself by its one-day response to any question or problem and by the fact that when people do call Olcott, they talk to a human being, “not an automated phone system that guides you through different departments — and you end up on an answering machine.”
Henkes explains that when companies are looking for someone to manage their patents and trademarks, they usually contact multiple annuity fee providers. As they evaluate each company, they of course consider the fees, which are based on the volume of a portfolio, but are also concerned with responsiveness. “I have had clients who just signed up with Olcott because they got a response in 24 hours and had to wait from the competition for a week,” Henkes says.
Of course potential clients also need to find a provider that satisfies their needs. Some clients, for example, may want to have its attorneys involved, which means Olcott will need to give both entities access to the portfolio through the online account. Or a client may use a docketing company to document every new filing, but wants Olcott to handle the renewals in different countries. Or a law firm may represent many clients and document all their new filings, but may not want to invest in software or handle the renewal services (many law firms do not want to take responsibility for managing renewal fees for liability reasons).
Closing a deal with a new client often does not happen in proximity to the original contact. “Three years later they come back,” Henkes says, adding, “I remember these names, but I don’t know my husband’s phone number — it’s in my blood.”
Noting Olcott’s strong relationship with the company that created its software, Henkes says that Olcott would be happy to introduce that software to potential clients, such as law firms, and to offer IT backup and support for anyone interested in purchasing the software.
One challenge for the company has been finding competent people, and Henkes says that Olcott “is always looking for people we think could fill a role.”
Henkes was born outside of Munich. Her father, now retired, was a manager in telecommunications at Siemens for 25 years. Her mother, who had been a social worker for foster children, just took a new job working with refugee children coming to Germany from Syria.
After high school Henkes spent a year in the United States as an au pair. Then she returned to Germany, graduating in 2002 from the Language and Interpreting School in Munich, where she majored in English, Spanish, and economics.
Her first position was with the intellectual property law firm Manitz, Finsterwald, & Partner, in Munich, established more than 100 years ago by the grandfather of its current senior partner, Gerhart Manitz. Henkes began as a trainee and ran its annuity department for six years. “They gave me all the knowledge I have,” she says.
It was at this law firm that Henkes was introduced to the software Olcott uses because she was involved in its implementation.
Henkes left Manitz, Finsterwald, & Partner in 2008 and moved to the United States with her American husband. In May, 2008, she started working at Darby & Darby, then, she says, “one of the largest remaining firms only doing intellectual property law in the United States.” The firm in fact “imploded in 2010 after 150 years in business,” she adds.
She was contacted by Olcott through LinkedIn and joined the company in 2010. “Because of having worked eight years on the client side and now having changed to the provider, I understand both sides and think that is what I bring to the table for Olcott,” Henkes says.
She is married to Hans Henkes, who is president and CEO for North America of SieMatic, a German manufacturer of high-end kitchens that is headquartered in Newtown, PA, but has showrooms all over the country. The couple has a two-year-old daughter.
Running a patent annuity firm since the Internet age, Henkes says, everything is visible and public information. “This is why you have to be straightforward and transparent in this business because people can research information if they feel they have not been treated honestly.”
Olcott International, 176 Tamarack Circle, Skillman 08558. 609-644-3800. www.olcott.com.