Business executives, especially technologists and managers, can readily understand, discuss, and contribute to the following:
i. Innovation: The need for innovation, its implications for the survival and prosperity of their businesses, complexities involved, and ideas on how to motivate people to innovate
ii. Cost-cutting: The need for continuous cost-cutting efforts and cost optimization so as to remain competitive and/or improve profit margins
iii. New product introduction: The refreshing of product lines, need to offer newer and more advanced versions of existing products and services, and the need to remain ahead of competitors
iv. Outsourcing and franchising: The former to reduce capital investments and associated risks and the latter to expand market reach while reducing investments and risks
v. Partnering, teaming, joint ventures, and collaborations: To bring together diverse skills and resources, open up new markets, induct new talent, create new synergies, and so on
vi. Competitive intelligence: Knowing what your rivals are doing or what your emerging rivals are doing in a lawful and ethical manner.
Yet, connections between each of these and intellectual property rights (IPR) are not easily visible to managers and technologists.
Perhaps, the reason for that is the fact that IPRs have a legal basis or foundation and most technologists and managers consider law as something best left to lawyers or the legal department. In this article, we consider only the first of the important items listed above, namely innovation.
Why do Innovators need to know about IPR?
|Do we have an innovation here?||• How patenting helps validate innovation
• How the patenting process reveals other technologies that can block us
• How the patenting process reveals technologies that can help us
|How do I maximize the value of my innovation?||• How patenting can help prevent copying even inadvertently
• How IPR can lead to competitive advantage via product differentiators
• How IPR can lead to non-linear revenues
|What strategic value can we get from my innovation?||• How IPR can lead to improved attraction for partners
• How IPR can signal technological or market leadership
• How IPR can improve negotiating power
|Do we have an innovation here?|
|How patenting helps validate innovation: When does an innovator know that he/she has an innovation? How does he/she validate it? How does he/she determine whether that which he/she considers an innovation has not already been done by someone else [with reasonable certainty]? As a necessary step in the process of seeking a patent, the innovator needs to conduct a search for “prior art.” That is, a search to determine whether someone else has already obtained a patent on the same innovation or has applied for a patent for the same innovation and whether that application is still under consideration by the relevant patent office. The advent of the Internet and publicly available tools like Google Patents has made it simpler and easier for innovators to make such determinations with a fair degree of certainty. The databases of granted patents and pending patent applications are well structured, official, and extremely valuable repositories of information that make such searches and determinations possible. So, patenting helps validate innovation. How else can we know that we have an innovation here?|
|How the patenting process reveals other technologies that can block us: During the search for prior art, the innovator will also, probably, discover that there are patents owned by others, or applied for by others that cover key technologies or components that he/she needs to practice [make, use, or sell] his/her innovation. If the cost of procuring licenses for such technologies or components is prohibitive or economically infeasible or the patents to these belong to a rival who is unlikely to provide a license for use, that could constitute an impediment to the innovator’s plans. It is useful to know in advance about such possibilities.|
|How the patenting process reveals technologies that can help us: In the process of a search for prior art, the innovator could well discover technologies that can help. For example, technologies for which the patents have already expired. These form a major portion of all patent databases and constitute a huge and readily available source of technology and ideas that are not patent protected and which, therefore, are available for use by the innovator.|
|How do I maximize the value of my innovation?|
|How patenting can help prevent copying - even inadvertently: Unlike trade secret and copyright protection where independent creation is usually a valid defense, patent law allows the owner of a patent to prevent even inadvertent copying of the patented technology without permission [that is, a license from the patent owner]. Thus, patenting provides strong protection against imitators of one’s innovation.|
|How IPR can lead to competitive advantage via product differentiators: The value of an innovation is often the outcome of differentiation that the innovation provides to one’s product or service, or else rivals can easily copy or emulate one’s innovation via inspection or analysis of one’s product or service or by reverse engineering. A patent can prevent these and help sustain one’s product or service differentiators.|
|How IPR can lead to non-linear revenues: Revenues from licensing of one’s patented innovations can lead to non-linear sources of revenues. In other words, such revenues are not linked to investments in human resources or plant and machinery. This is not easy, but such revenue possibilities exist. The value of innovations can be tapped by licensing out the IPRs to these innovations.|
Innovating without IPR is like batting, in cricket, without a scoreboard. An IP asset portfolio is a handy way of measuring progress in innovation. Getting a patent for one’s innovation is a good test for validating the innovation because the primary condition for grant of a patent is the invention of a new product or new feature for a product [or a process].
|What strategic value can we get from my innovation?|
|How IPR can lead to improved attraction for partners: Companies or businesses with rich IPR portfolios are readily recognized as the most innovative companies or businesses. Therefore, such companies or businesses can more easily attract and retain business partners - both for manufacturing and selling. Even individuals with good patents can attract investors and partners more effectively than those without patents.|
|How IPR can signal technological or market leadership: A powerful portfolio of patents is a ready and distinct signal of innovative prowess and a key indicator of technological leadership or market leadership. This is a handy and recognizable way of separating leaders from followers. This is true even for individuals who want to be seen as technology leaders.|
|How IPR can improve negotiating power: Those engaged in sales or business promotion will readily recognize that the ability to sustain product differentiators by patent protection of innovations can enhance their negotiating power with prospects as well as partners or collaborators.|
But the onus of demystifying IPR for innovators lies, in my opinion, on IP lawyers and patent attorneys. Their role in bringing technologists and managers up to speed on IPR awareness is crucial to business success.
Disclaimer – The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and are purely informative in nature.