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The PMBOK offers a very clear way of thinking about IP. “Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind”, which “in product innovation”, “defines the potential for an organization to capture value from new products”.
Unpacking this, we see a few themes; i) ideation or creation, i.e. the innovation process, ii) the organization, i.e. the people/teams and, iii) the customer (i.e., the products/services that allow value capture).
The Innovation Process
Companies that are serious about IP capture must be serious about the handling of novel ideas. They must always be handled with the support of legal resources from the eureka moment of the invention to the time it is published. Strong IP offers the right holders the opportunity to be rewarded for their creativity and innovation and enabling society at large and the economy to benefit from their achievements.
For the IP to be useful, it must be novel, and it must be protected. This means it needs supporting tools and a well-defined capture process. As with all tools, the simplest is often the best; using a specially printed inventor’s logbook means that you have a vital (dated) record of your work, whether for patent purposes or legal records. Some logbooks even have special copy protection features and spaces for preparing patent application drawings.
The invention capture process again can be as simple as frequent meetings with your legal team, or a more evolved format can be to hold formal Invention Sessions. For Invention Sessions, you would bring together some of your organization’s top minds/inventors, specialized experts/technologists, and legal professionals to generate (and formally document) new ideas or solutions to the big challenges you have identified. After each session, you can share these initial ideas and work (confidentially) with other parts of the organization to determine which are most commercially viable and warrant patent filings or trade-secret protection. Making this happen requires a formal and well-structured process.
In deciding about the path to protecting these ideas, companies must remember that patents can only be used defensively through assertion or litigation. Meanwhile, a trade secret can be protected for an unlimited period unless discovered or legally acquired by others and disclosed to the public. Once protected internally, IP can be protected externally under law in several ways that enable the owner to earn recognition and/or financial reward.
Having a process is critical. Whether you want to consider using PMBOK (1.7.3 Intellectual property strategy), or more formally, ISO 56005 (Innovation management — Tools and methods for intellectual property management) as framework modelshese approaches are critical to the management of IP. Documenting a process will provide a structured way to manage IP capture at strategic and operational levels. The use of consistent IP tools and methods should quickly establish systematic IP management within the organization’s innovation processes.
Organizations of all sizes need clear goals as they seek to drive incremental improvements, address adjacent markets, or pursue a new business model, or a combination of these. Achieving these goals requires a commitment to innovation and IP development. These, in turn, need ownership and a platform to coordinate effort. Having dedicated or assigned staff and a process ensures innovative ideas and processes to be captured. Having an easily accessible process allows organizations to realize the full potential of all employee inventors regardless of gender, race or discipline.
While clearly IP capture requires tools and process, the role of people (inventors, specialized experts /technologists, and legal professionals) is central to the protection of IP in all its forms. Successfully securing IP rights is dependent on people for quality capture of ideas and diligence to avoid disclosure.
Unusually its capture is dependent on teams who don’t often work closely or well together. It’s not untypical for R&D teams (engineering /development) and legal teams to not mix well, as R&D teams want to move fast and rapidly respond to customer feedback, while Legal teams may have a “say no to risk” mentality. This often-contrary position has its roots in disparate goals where an R&D team might only be measured on timely development of new products, and legal with risk avoidance.
Having well-integrated goals and an ‘IP culture’ is required. This starts with the C-suite, setting measurable goals that ensure collaboration at all levels within and across the organization, ideally with the appointment of an executive sponsor. Many organizations consider IP matters (primarily related to confidentiality) in the onboarding and offboarding processes that bookend an employee’s time at a company, but they fail to speak to the development and value of IP within the employee’s journey. In an ideal world, the role of IP capture and management would be part of the employee journey mapping, and it should be part of the onboarding process and be backed up with mentorship.
Mentorship should be a key aspect of all organizations’ efforts to drive IP culture. It is not untypical for larger multinational corporations to have IP committees that inject energy into the process and offer a pool of ready resources for mentorship activities. For smaller companies, mentorship and the role of IP champions within business units are just as powerful, but require more active executive sponsorship to ensure their success. Regardless of their size, IP Committees represent a visible reminder of the importance of IP and are very effective tools to keep the IP culture alive, drive education and capture the imagination of the wider organization.
With respect to process maturity, the PMBOK notes that the emphasis placed on IP as a driver of overall business strategy should depend “on overall organization goals and the environment in which it is operating”. With respect to the operating environment, it shows companies operating at various levels of maturity from ‘reactive’ to ‘optimized’. While this journey map can look daunting, that the most important thing is to have a strategy, a process, and to be pragmatic about developing an IP position that is right for your organization. Of course, this should reflect its maturity level and the IP intensity of the markets within which it operates.
It’s a given that successful product innovation is about putting customers first. Understanding them ensures companies pick the right products to develop, at the right time using the right processes, practices, and tools. Capturing this innovation in the form of IP requires the essential ingredients of people (culture, organization, and teams), as well as related performance metrics.
Companies want to stay relevant and innovative. Being customer-centric means knowing and segmenting target customers and understanding each group’s known (and yet unknown) needs. Much innovation occurs during active customer needs analysis that is borne out of a desire to maximize product fit. As your team develops novel new technologies to address customer experiences and needs, it must carefully consider how it documents and communicates these new ideas.
The most innovative companies are ruthless about optimizing the customer journey, finding new and novel ways to win and retain customers. This ruthlessness creates a Petri dish type environment where ideas can flourish and result in new and improved technology to deliver solutions in response to ever more refined customer understanding and experience.
By its nature, IP is a powerful tool that can be used to protect investments in innovation. IP includes inventions that are captured privately as trade secrets or publicly as legal instruments patents, designs and brand names, symbols, or logos used to distinguish products and services from one undertaking from another (trademarks). These are often wrapped up in the company’s brand, image and reputation, and they are important and recognizable artefacts of the company’s commitment to innovation.
IP ownership and its protection (internally and externally) are essential components of an organization’s business strategy. Capturing novel IP and allowing it to be protected is a critical lynchpin in supporting the organization’s current and future strategy, ambitions, and sustainability.
While IP is an intangible asset, the creation of IP results in tangible benefits to individual employees that include increased income, promotion, job opportunities, prestige and development of broader social networks.
As organizations consider how best to grow the product, services, and talent pipelines, it is clear that their IP capture processes can be uniquely used to attract diverse talent. This should allow the organization to develop a pool of accomplished innovators who can solve problems using a diverse range of perspectives.
About the Author
Declan Carew has over twenty-five years’ experience in delivering transformational and innovative business opportunities, working with leading technology-driven companies in product and service development, commercial strategy and investment management contexts. He has experience in business, innovation, research, academia, and supports technology-led start-ups in an advisory capacity.
He has an Engineering (B.Eng.) background with Masters Degrees in Business Management (MBA) and Governance (M.Sc) and has lectured extensively on management topics including; Operations Excellence, Supply Chain Strategy, Lean Principles, Project Management, and Contract Management. Declan is currently VP of Portfolio Management and Program Development at Intellectual Ventures (IV), a global invention and investment business that creates, incubates and commercializes impactful inventions.