Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA. (Photo: Benny Marty/Shutterstock.com)

 

“Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by author Michael Lewis chronicles how Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics used analytics to assemble a competitive team, despite a disadvantaged financial situation.

Lewis’ book may not seem like an obvious source for lessons on patent strategy. And yet, it has offered a number of lessons for Yahoo Inc.’s patent group, David Ishimaru, senior director of patent asset development at Yahoo, said Tuesday at the “Moneyball Patent Asset Management” session at the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium’s (CLOC) annual institute in Las Vegas.

“Moneyball…is sort of synonymous with the intelligent use of data,” Ishimaru said.  “The Oakland Athletics had to get creative and efficient about how they were operating with their low payroll.”

One takeaway from the book is to ask the right questions, Ishimaru said, explaining that instead of asking how to get good players, the question for the Athletics was how to get players that will help you win and that are a “good, efficient use of your money.” And then the need is to determine what data is important for assessing the questions and to know the data’s strengths and weaknesses, he added.

When Ishimaru joined Yahoo in 2004, he said was “very frustrated by the fact that there was little technology being brought to bear.” He noted that the company had “a very primitive, homemade document system” at the time that was just starting to get populated, so plenty of work was still done on paper. For instance, a paralegal would spend the first four hours of the day opening up envelopes that might include litigation or filing deadlines.

The patent group at Yahoo has since taken lessons from Moneyball and applied them to the day-to-day decision-making around patents, Ishimaru explained. With the budget, for instance, if asked what is being spent or what will be spent in a year, the response used to be to look to outside firms for answers, he said.

To be in the position to have the answers on their own, Ishimaru said his group started with asking the right questions: How much are we spending and does spend reflect the patent development strategy? Then came collecting cost and docketing data that could ultimately be used to negotiate with law firms and create certainty around spend, he added.

Ishimaru said he was also interested in looking at how the Moneyball methodology would apply to patent management. “We needed to figure out what were the actionable insights,” according to Ishimaru, “so we created a sort of one-size-fits-all dashboard of activity” in order to provide the context that’s necessary to inform decisions and standardize internal metrics.

“The key point is data is increasingly available,” he noted. “Now that data is becoming very present, very usable, it’s more important now that you ask the correct questions and you understand the limitations of your data.”