Mining The Intellectual Property Buried in Your Company

by: Natalie Giroux

Innovation is what distinguishes between a leader and a follower – Steve Jobs

Innovation is what differentiates your company from your competitors. But do you and your employee know how innovative your company truly is? Are you fostering an innovation-minded employee base? When was the last time an employee came forward with innovative solutions?

Innovation can be in products, features and services but also in creating a better way to build the product or deliver it. If your employees do not proactively come forward with their innovative solutions, it could be because they don’t know how to recognize them as such. Worse still, perhaps they don’t naturally look beyond existing approaches to make things better, simpler and more efficient.

“Invention mining” sessions are an excellent way to promote innovative thinking. You should perform quarterly invention mining sessions with different groups of employees; not only the designers, but those testing, manufacturing and delivering the product. These brainstorming sessions are very useful to extract and document the innovation underlying your product offering.

Don’t just look at what has been implemented or designed. Also consider other potential applications for a feature or how something could be done differently if an alternate underlying technology were available. Often, we think that innovation needs to be complicated. In fact the best ideas are generally the simplest! As long as it is novel and non-obvious to someone skilled in the art, it should be treated as an innovation.

As they identify innovation, employees will start to understand the value of innovating and will take pride in finding better solutions. If you reward them by celebrating innovation milestones (the allowance of a patent for example) you boost their morale and encourage further innovation. Not only will you be able to protect some of these innovations but you will also end up with better products or services!

Inventions should be carefully documented and a decision should be made as to the best way to protect them. Remember that trade secrets are a viable and cost-effective alternative to patents as long as they can be effectively protected, since reverse engineering is legal.

You should also maintain an innovation “landscape” which shows where your solution (product or services) is innovative and exactly what is protected. Keep these ideas well organized and documented; they are very valuable during due diligence.

By fostering an innovation-minded culture, you will quickly see the benefits in your product offerings and your success in the market. Imagine the wealth of innovation that could be driving your company to the next level of success!

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