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  • Can my R&D staff be more innovative?

    9/29/2015

    In most of my meetings with clients I hear phrases like “can you expect your personnel to invent” or “nothing is patentable according to my staff”. This reminds me of the movie Modern Times with Charlie Chaplin, whose job it is to tighten bolts on an endless series of machine parts − he is a small cog in the factory exploiting their workers. The key to successful nut-tightening is to perform his movements and tasks with clock-like tempo and precision. Still today, the environment is like that for R&D engineers in many “modern” companies. And you expect them to be innovative?

    I was recently invited by a client to discuss how I could help the R&D team to become more innovative in terms of how to use IPR in their R&D work. I felt honoured and also a bit humble to work with technical experts where their daily work is to solve highly complex problems related to their product portfolio. I soon understood that they had a strong focus on patent filings and that the challenge was to investigate if they could protect the product with patents. 

    A clock-like tempo will not replace a strong game plan.
    Before my meeting with the client I started to investigate what they had developed so far. Already early in that process I was pleasantly surprised at how much innovation the team had created. At the same time I was puzzled by the low amount of invention disclosures − this did not make sense. Why are they not protecting these innovative features? 

    When I briefed the project manager about my findings, I mainly asked him questions related to the companys´ IP-strategy. I explained to him that it did not make sense that such a complex product didn´t have multiple patent filings already. To my surprise I realised that the existing IP-strategy lacked the actual strategy, it mainly consisted of general information that could be applicable to all their R&D projects. 

    I rounded off our conversation by telling the project manager − Your R&D team need to have a game plan and they need to understand it. It´s not about the lack of innovation activity, it´s about the lack of a "real” IP-strategy. 

    5 deadly sins committed by companies that leads to dangerously low patent activity in R&D projects.

    1. Not having a well-defined strategy for the R&D project.
    2. Not knowing what kind of IP protection to pursue.
    3. Not following competitors´ activities.
    4. No clear vision and deliverables for the project in terms of IP.
    5. No awareness of what is patentable.

    3 reasons why you should create a unique IP-strategy for a R&D project.

    1. To stimulate and increase the IP-awareness within the team.
    2. To facilitate the possibility to define features to protect.
    3. To be able to define the number of patent filings.

    A successful IP-strategy includes product placement, features to protect, the type of protection, key markets and invention disclosures in addition to the companies general IP-strategy. Regardless of whether a business uses a direct or indirect IP-strategy, or a combination of the two, R&D managers need to work more close with R&D engineers.

    My 3 best advices to avoid ending up in high investment in R&D project without any type of patent protection.

    1. Create a process throughout the project where IP is treated and where multiple questions need to be answered by the R&D team.
    2. Make sure to have at least two IP-workshops during the project with an experienced moderator (patent expert). The goal is to identify new inventions disclosures and to to identify new technical problems that has been solved.
    3. Create an innovation environment where management value creativity.
    One more thing!
    Can you imagine how the telecom industry leader Ericsson had to change their IP-strategy when Apple introduced Iphone? Make sure to understand the technology trends and who your competitors are. I´m repeating myself because I meet so many R&D managers and decision makers that don’t see the possibilities with patent information.

    What´s your best advice?
    Please share your expertise by leaving a comment. Also feel free to share this post in your own network.

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