How knowing the basics of innovation capture can lead to competitive advantage and long-term business success.
The way we live, work, communicate and share information with one another has been transformed through the merging of new technologies such as AI and the Internet of Things. Not since the invention of the printing press, which unlocked literacy and kickstarted a scientific revolution, has there been such a step change in the rate of circulation of information and ideas. Capturing this information, and thus capturing innovation, so that it can be turned into a competitive advantage, is more essential than ever.
Research by McKinsey shows that most executives agree innovation is critical for their business - 84% think it is important to growth strategy. However, only 6% are satisfied with innovation performance and acknowledge that they don’t know the exact problem and how they can improve in innovation and R&D. Here we address some of the fundamental aspects of innovation capture.
Break down barriers
Organisations are typically divided into a department for research and development and a department for the commercialisation of that research. As the roles and remit of employees are often limited to their respective departments, any divisions must be bridged to enable the effective capture of innovation.
As simple as it sounds, breaking down the silos within an organisation starts with getting to know one another. Building an understanding of the commercial role of innovation capture will entice inventors to partake in innovation capture because they will see its benefits. A level of awareness of the challenges innovators face aligns expectations and can help IP specialists set more realistic targets.
The starting point of innovation capture is often an innovation capture form that is completed by inventors for review by an IP specialist. If not done in the right way, such forms can become a barrier. To reduce the burden – and boredom – of form filling, and incentivise inventors to participate in the process, we’ve covered some of the most effective tactics we have seen in modern organisations.
Innovation capture thrives with human interaction: regularly spending time with other teams can naturally encourage a conversation which may unearth the next big idea. IP specialists may consider embedding themselves in research teams from time to time, and they should take up any opportunity to connect with an inventor. Creating a series of positive and productive experiences inventors would want to share with their colleagues is, in turn, going to encourage others to participate in the process.
Innovation capture events can be an efficient and fun way to submit an invention. Tech giant Cisco, for example, runs day-long “patentathons” which provide a collaborative, enjoyable environment for brainstorming new ideas. IP specialists can play an active role by offering their IP perspective, or by being on the judging panel. Using their central position, IP specialists can effecitvely cross polinate ideas and connect people. It's crucial to keep participants motivated by setting a target on innovation disclosures submitted to the IP team and making sure their management allocate them enough time to think about innovation.
Give innovators the tools they need
Educating inventors on the requirements for obtaining IP protection is a good starting point, but takes time. Training could be provided on a one-to-one basis by an in-house or external IP specialist, or in group settings. When it comes to patent protection, a common roadblock is the discrepancy between what inventors consider “inventive” (which may be mistaken with difficulty or complexity) and the inventiveness requirements set out by patent offices. This can lead to missed opportunities.
Inventors might consider keeping a written log of their work to explain what they have done and to identify the problems they have solved, which is often a strong indicator of inventiveness. This will also help with filling in innovation capture forms.
A mentor programme, where more experienced inventors guide junior inventors through the innovation capture process, has also proven to be successful. Mentors will have a solid understanding of the difficulties inventors face when participating in the innovation capture process and are well-placed to provide guidance and support.
Cut through the red tape
A 2014 study by Deloitte cited a lack of a formal process in most companies as a significant barrier to innovation. Therefore, it is essential that you have an effective innovation capture system in place.
Nonetheless, innovation capture processes can often become burdensome and must be well implemented. Keep the review process flexible. Innovation capture systems are not always easy to use. Offer inventors the option to only submit inventions once you have met and established that what they have is worth pursuing.
Review committees should meet regularly (we suggest at least quarterly) and provide helpful and timely feedback to inventors who have submitted inventions, otherwise they may feel discouraged and will soon stop doing so. Reviews should be conducted with a clear idea of IP targets and budget for each project. A scoring system, for example combining metrics for both likelihood of patent grant and commercial potential, is a good way for dealing with large volumes of disclosures and cataloguing disclosures for future consideration. Outside counsel can help with questions surrounding protectability, where necessary.
The stages of the review process should also be transparent, defined and well-communicated to the inventors so that they understand and feel engaged with the process.
Employees should have clear objectives and feel there is an incentive for achieving, or even exceeding, these objectives. Rewards can be based on a new idea reaching certain mile-stones such as passing the review stage, filing for IP protection and grant of protection. This way inventors will feel rewarded even if an idea does not result in a patent and will not feel discouraged from submitting their ideas.
Financial rewards may feel like an obvious choice, however, employee recognition – for example through a companywide “Top Innovator” award – can also be effective. The reward or recognition that hits the spot will, by and large, depend on the culture of your company and individuals, however, a conversation with the internal communications teams and/or HR team will help.
Revolution or natural evolution?
When the opportunities to connect and share knowledge become endlessly intertwined, there is risk, and there is potential. The 4th Industrial Revolution brings us new ways to access information, grow our knowledge and modify how we share it with millions of people or a small circle of like-minded individuals. Time will tell which companies will fail to capture innovation, and which will learn to adapt to this new environment and achieve long-term business success.
If you would like to contact Greg St Clair Jones or Nico Cousens to discuss your thoughts on innovation capture, please do not hesitate to email either of them.