About BHIP

we upgrade your legal operation with machine intelligence

a work or invention that is the result of creativity, such as a manuscript or a design, to which one has rights and for which one may apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, etc.


Founded in 2011, Black Hills IP set out with the mission of empowering IP professionals with the most efficient support possible. Like others in our field, we found U.S. and international IP systems to be complex, error-prone, and time consuming. IP attorneys all share one common goal: to promote innovation. So why not bring this same mindset into our own day-to-day operations?

With growing workloads, fast-approaching deadlines, and limited funds, legal teams in corporations and law firms rarely have the time to rethink their critical back-office operations. We understand that. Our goal is to help our customers focus on the big picture while we team up to take care of the meticulous details in the background.



At the heart of Black Hills IP is an immense passion for problem solving. Identifying solutions to inefficient operations drives our team. We collaborate with our customers to streamline their support services and leverage today’s technology solutions. We are obsessed in our development of new AI and automation to perform the manual, detail-oriented support work with far superior speed and accuracy! This core philosophy drives us to streamline our customer’s daily operations, no matter how outdated those operations may be. And trust us, we’ve seen it all!


Our team of paralegals, docketing specialists, and AI programmers work hard to craft solutions to our customer’s individual needs. We start with automation and technological solutions, add a highly skilled team and then provide personal service. And did we mention that with locations in Minneapolis, MN and Rapid City, SD, all our work is done here in the USA!

Russ Slifer

Russ Slifer is Chief Executive Officer for Black Hills IP.  He is the former Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Directory of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Prior to his government service, Russ was the Chief Patent Counsel for Micron Technology where he managed one of the world’s largest patent portfolios. Russ started his professional career as an electrical engineer for Honeywell.  With more than 25 years of intellectual property experience, he is an expert in complex IP matters.

Ann McCrackin

Ann McCrackin is the President and Chief Business Development Officer for Black Hills IP as well as a patent prosecution process expert and a highly accomplished patent attorney with extensive experience in both U.S. and international patent prosecution.  Before becoming President of Black Hills IP, Ann was a Professor of Law and the Director of the nationally recognized Patent Prosecution and Procedure Program at Franklin Pierce Law Center (now the University of New Hampshire School of Law).  At Franklin Pierce, Ann directed the program and taught courses in advanced aspects of practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  Ann has also taught dozens of continuing legal education courses and seminars on various aspects of patent process and prosecution and has edited and authored a number of legal texts on patent law.  Ann is also attorney of record for several Amicus Briefs filed in patent cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  Ann was a Shareholder at the Minneapolis patent firm Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner, P.A. for eight years.  Ann has an undergraduate degree from Iowa State University and a law degree from Franklin Pierce Law Center.

Black Hills IP - Ann McCrackin

Tom Marlow

Thomas (Tom) Marlow is the Chief Technology Officer for Black Hills IP  and is the President of Black Hills IP Renewals, our patent annuities management company.  Tom is a registered patent attorney and electrical engineer with a passion for IP systems.  Previously, Tom ran the IP department for a multi-billion dollar semiconductor manufacturing company where he oversaw worldwide IP strategy, enforcement, and procurement.  Tom taps his in-house and prior private practice experience to develop and deliver products and services that address known pain-points in the patent process.  Tom has spoken before diverse audiences from patent attorneys to C-suite executives to engineers to startup founders on patent management, analysis, and strategy over the years.  Tom also has experience prosecuting and managing patent prosecution on a global scale and is the co-author of the Lexis published “US Patent Prosecutor’s Desk Reference”.  Tom was previously co-chair of the patent analytics and portfolio management department at the Minneapolis patent firm Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner, P.A.  He received his law degree from Franklin Pierce Law Center, and Bachelors of Science from the University of Notre Dame.

Milena Higgins

Milena Higgins is the Chief Operating Officer and Director of Artificial Intelligence for Black Hills IP. With more than 20 years of experience in intellectual property, she leads our Docketing and Paralegal teams to embrace change daily and always think of how to serve our customers more effectively. Inspired by the intersection of disciplines, Milena loves redesigning the delivery of legal services. By combining technology, human-centered design, and her business training together with her experience in patent litigation and prosecution, Milena guides Black Hills IP in our innovation journey to fully automated docketing. Milena has a Ph.D. in Physics and a Masters in Management of Technology. She is a registered patent agent and a certified scrum product owner. She has written for and led conference sessions for the International Legal Technology Association and was one of their three finalists for Innovative Project of the Year. When she’s not building bridges or herding cats, you’ll find her learning new lingo from her teenage kids or tweeting about the latest developments in Legal Tech, AI, and Design Thinking.

Black Hills IP - Jim Brophy

Jim Brophy

James (Jim) P. Brophy II is the Vice President of Sales for Black Hills IP.  He has over twenty-five years of intellectual property experience, and was instrumental in introducing the first successful web-based IP management system to the intellectual property industry. He also was instrumental in the early growth of the IP outsourcing industry at his prior company. Over the last ten years, Jim’s experience in the IP management and outsourcing business has given him a strong understanding of the patent and trademark process as well as the current needs of the industry. Jim’s outstanding abilities and reputation for honesty have been rewarded by his customers.

Jeff Hittesdorf

Jeff Hittesdorf is the Controller for Black Hills IP.  While in college, Jeff began serving in the mailroom of one of the largest Patent Prosecution law firms in the country, Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner. His hard-work and diligence quickly stood out and he was promoted to an accounting role within the firm. Over the next ten years, Jeff developed a reputation for his business savvy, unique insight into complex situations, and unwavering integrity. In 2013, he joined the BHIP team to lead our accounting department. When he’s not saving us money, Jeff is likely rooting for his Michigan Wolverines or at home being a father to his two children with his wonderful wife, Anne.

Black Hills IP - Jeff Hittesdorf
Black Hills IP - Kelley Donnell

Kelley Donnell

Kelley Donnell is the Operations Manager for Black Hills IP at our Rapid City office. He oversees the quality and process improvements for Black Hills IP.  Kelley has his MBA and is LEAN certified with a passion for helping others achieve.  Previously, Kelley was an operations manager for the largest electrical distribution company in the world with over 9 billion in annual sales.  He has been responsible for the operations of facilities in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Washington DC.  He has led teams using Six Sigma to drive perfection in processes from material management activities and accounts receivables to document retention and data integrity management. His expertise in LEAN Six Sigma has had a considerable impact on the core philosophy that makes Black Hills IP great at what it does – delivering outstanding IP services with incredible accuracy.  Kelley has created an incredibly open and lively working environment for our team, which he believes is paramount to breeding productivity.  One thing that is crystal clear to those who work around Kelley is that he cares immensely for his team members.  He lives with a defined set of core values which he brings to the table each day: People, Integrity, Customer, and Numbers – in that order!