HarQen CEO Stresses the Importance of Innovation and IP Protection
If you’re able to imagineer – yes, that’s a combination of imagine and engineer – the freaky future, you might have what it takes to call yourself an innovator.
Just ask Ane Ohm, an accountant from University of Wisconsin-Madison, who started her career as an auditor with Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) and is now president and COO of Milwaukee’s voice service software company HarQen.
Ohm believes innovation comes from anywhere. “You just have to be paying attention,” she says. “It might be from deliberate conversation, where a team meets specifically to uncover new ways to solve a client need. Or it might be from observing animal interactions and recognizing how their behaviors and use of rudimentary tools can apply to a human situation. Or it might be a nagging personal problem that has applicability to many.”
People have innovative ideas every day, she says. To become useful, these innovations have to be nurtured, supported, shared, and – most importantly – acted upon.
“You need to ask great questions about mundane circumstances. Plus, you need to have a team of mad geniuses looking at things from ridiculous angles; you need to hire creative, smart, curious people,” Ohm says. “Innovation is a spark that comes from anyone asking the right question at the right time and caring enough about the answer to keep pursing it.”
That’s often where Boyle Fredrickson comes in.
“If you have a great idea that appears to be novel and you believe you can bring it to life, you should consult with an IP expert. An expert can help you to discern whether or not you have something that can be patented; he or she can also provide counsel about the potential worth in patenting your idea,” she says.
According to Ohm, filing a patent is not for the faint-hearted. “It requires skill and a lot of time. Engaging a specialty firm like Boyle Frederickson is a must and not solely for their ability to help you draft strong, defensible language for your patent. After the initial filing, the approval process is long and each subsequent step must comply with ever changing laws, procedures and timelines,” she says.
Boyle Fredrickson understands innovation. It’s what clients such as HarQen are all about. “Innovation is what we protect and it’s how we do business,” says Adam L. Brookman, one of Boyle Fredrickson’s 12 equity shareholders.
HarQen has worked closely with Boyle Frederickson for every component of its intellectual property portfolio, whether it’s patents, trademarks, trade secrets, etc. Ohm says, “The firm provides invaluable insight into the current status and interpretation of our filings and rights, as well as a docket system to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.”
“We have great confidence in the strength of our IP portfolio because of Boyle Frederickson’s guidance,” she says.
More from our interview with Ane Ohm, president and COO of HarQen
Ane Ohm spent some time with us earlier this year answering some questions about innovation, herself and about HarQen, the company she has been running since November 2012. Here’s a look at more from that conversation.
BF: What’s new at HarQen?
AO: HarQen recently co-founded the Hypervoice Consortium, which is organized to define and promote the concept of Hypervoice™ conversations. Hypervoice conversations link what we say to what we do, combining the power of telephony and the web to enhance the value of our conversations by making them findable and shareable. You can learn more at www.hypervoice.org.
A Hypervoice™ conversation is more than a new term; it creates a new market space. The Hypervoice Consortium has attracted sponsors, events, and attention from analysts, reporters, and business leaders. At HarQen, this effort helps to define what it does and to explain the value HarQen can bring to the enterprise.
BF: What trends are you seeing in technology? What’s the future?
AO: In addition to the cool stuff that I currently can’t imagine, the future will soon bring less friction between technology and people. For example, now when I have a conference call, it’s hard to find the conference call-in number and dial the correct passcode. In the near future, conference calls will be initiated with a simple click or a voice command – no search necessary. If I have a mobile device that knows where I am and what I’m supposed to be doing, it will support me all the way, not get in the way as it sometimes does now.
And I hope that crazy-long battery life is just over the horizon!
BF: Tell us about some of the accomplishments you’ve achieved while at HarQen and also please describe one of your best business or career decisions.
AO: My biggest personal achievement at HarQen is helping to take us from a cool idea with initial success in the marketplace to a business that is well structured for growth. We have a cohesive, motivated team that is well aligned and incredibly supportive of each other. They are amazing!
One of my best career decisions was letting go of my own preconceived notion that I was “just an accountant” and allowing myself to move into all sorts of functional areas. As a result, my experiences in accounting, marketing, recruiting, sales, and operations – all while managing teams of two to 200 – have served me well in a startup environment where wearing multiple hats is the norm.
BF: Now tell us about a big miss; a gaffe that made HarQen the company it is today.
AO: HarQen didn’t start out as HarQen. In fact, first it was solely Comic Wonder, an online joke-telling website where you can still tell, listen, and share jokes. As you know, reading a joke can be funny, but a great delivery is what makes it stand out. Unfortunately, there isn’t as much money in joke telling as our founders hoped there might be. Who knew?
All tongue-in-cheek, of course, but it sparked an important realization: original voice is important for more than just comedians. While Comic Wonder may have floundered as a revenue generator, it helped our founders realize that they’d actually created the core of a platform that could help recruiters make better selection decisions faster, customer service more efficiently solve customer problems, and executives sleep through the night because they can later review the important parts of a 3 a.m. meeting with China. All of this is possible with what started as Comic Wonder.
BF: If you were asked to give the speech of your life, what would you talk about? In other words, what would be the theme of your presentation?
AO: Wow, the speech of my life. That’s a big ask! It would probably be on something that seems small: being a good person. I’m a goofy idealist who believes that world peace is achievable as long as we look out for the person across the street and across the world. Most of my speeches include a thread of this already. If I’m talking to MBA or business school students at my alma mater, I’ll be sure to pull in something about business ethics. If I’m talking about revolutionizing recruiting, it’s centered on designing a process that works well for all constituents – the job seekers, the recruiters, the recruiting managers, and the hiring managers. If I’m speaking to a group at church, I draw in perspectives from those of other faiths to ensure that we aren’t being too insular in our thinking.
You can read more about Ane Ohm’s background and experience here.
About Boyle Fredrickson
Established in 1999, Boyle Fredrickson has grown to become Wisconsin’s largest intellectual property law firm. You’ve got ideas, we protect them.