Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chemical Engineers in the IP News Again

As a chemical engineer, by education, anyway, I was intrigued by this hot IP story:
Chemical Engineer Professor Battling University Over IP. DynamicPatents reports that:
The University of Missouri filed a lawsuit last Monday in a Kansas City Federal Court against chemical engineering professor Galen Suppes. As reported by, the University claims that Suppes will not release the rights to more than 30 inventions and 11 potential patents that were developed in his campus labs.

Let's keep an eye on this case. Professors have a tendency to take their work with them when they go elsewhere. But can they take IP rights for work already done? Probably not in most cases.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Innovation Fatigue: Is US Slipping in Patent Efforts?

News from Jan. 15, 2009: IBM Remains Patent King, But U.S. Innovation Is Slipping

Is America Losing Patent Dominance?

IFI Patent Intelligence, however, points to evidence that America's patent dominance may be slipping away to companies overseas, especially to those in Asia.

In a review of 2008 utility patents, IFI found that American companies captured only 49 percent of U.S. patents granted to companies. That compares to 50 percent in 2007. In addition, the U.S. holds only four of the top 10 slots, down from five in 2007. American firms also hold only 12 positions in the top 35, which collectively generated 26 percent of all the utility patents granted in 2008.

By comparison, Japanese companies hold five of the top 10 slots and 14 of the top 35. Although America is still the leading country in total new patents for 2008, IFI noted that Japan trails second with 23 percent. Germany, meanwhile, is third with six percent, South Korea is fourth with five percent, and Taiwan fifth with four percent.

"Although data suggest that American companies garnered a minority share of the total number of corporate U.S. patents last year, it's important not to confuse quantity with quality," said Darlene Slaughter, general manager of IFI. "What's clear is that many of the world's largest companies are placing a higher priority on protecting their intellectual property. This trend is occurring both here in the U.S. and abroad, especially in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany and other countries in Europe. Securing patents may be even more important in a down economy, since it gives patent holders an edge over their competitors."

FDA Regulated Health Claims vs. Patent Claims

Someone asked me today if the patent they want to prepare on a health care product can make health claims without getting into trouble with the FDA. Since FDA rules restrict health "claims," it's easy to think there is some relation to patent claims as well. But these are unrelated issues. FDA rules on health claims have no impact on what's in a patent. People can make or discuss all sorts of benefits. The "claims" in a patent, of course, refer only to the list of statements at the end that specifically describe the invention with limitations that should keep each claim away from the prior art. They aren't designed to be claims about the benefits of a product or method. However, the claims of a patent may make or imply health claims, such as "a wipe effective in preventing bacterial growth on the skin of a user, comprising....") - even though you may not be able to say that in advertising or on packaging without going through incredible expense to meet regulatory demands.

What people often do in a patent is mention that the product may contain known actives effective against a list of targeted conditions, with a list of possible actives, and may describe numerous uses such as preventing halitosis, cancer, etc. Sky is the limit about what you can say about your product. You don't want to destroy credibility or be outlandish, and you don't want to imply that the claimed invention necessarily has (i.e., must have) those benefits, because then a similar product that didn't have those benefits might arguably fall outside the scope of the claims. Always be wary of making definitive statements that could let a judge import unintended limitations into a claim.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Just In-Tune" Innovation™

In our forthcoming book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue by Jeffrey Dean Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins, and Mukund Karanjikar, we introduce a new paradigm for guiding innovation efforts. It's based on insights from the French horn I've picked up from my son, Daniel, who is a highly skilled hornist. Turn the funnel upside down and consider the tail end of the funnel as the mouthpiece to a French horn. Couple that with some of the interesting physics and history behind the French horn, and mix in my experience in facing the problems of innovating under the funnel model, and the result is something I think will be useful for a number of industries.

I'll be giving a presentation on a portion of this concept at the upcoming CoDev 2009 conference in Scottsdale, Arizona next week (Jan. 26-28). One aspect of this paradigm is that corporations can do much more to tune their innovation efforts to the market and their business plans. By using the right feedback loops and tuning systems, innovation can be much more productive than we have in the funnel model. Using "the Horn of Innovation™" as a paradigm, corporate innovation can be "Just In Tune" (i.e., almost exclusively in tune with corporate and marketplace needs). I'll have more to say about "Just In-Tune Innovation™" in the future.

In re Bilski - Useful Summary in Wikipedia

I've been pleasantly surprised with some of the recent content of Wikipedia. Court cases such as In re Bilski have been reported with useful summaries and discussion. The Wikipedia summary of In re Bilski, in fact, is recommended reading for those interested in the evolution of "business method patents."

Meanwhile, the impact of the decision may be growing. See "BPAI Applies Bilski to Deny Patentability of Machine Claim," where the Patently Obvious blog reports on a case where the machine aspect of the In re Bilski decision may be more demanding that I would have thought.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

China Beating India in IP?

There is concern in India about being way behind China in patent applications. India had 35,000 applications filed last year at the Indian Patent Office, while China has 245,000 filed with the State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO).

I'm interested in better understanding the reasons for the differences. Patent filings don't necessarily reflect the level of innovation. Costs, perceived value of patents, patent enforcement, and culture are all factors. India is highly innovative in areas that are difficult to patent, at least in India, such as software and Web design. China is renowned for innovation in areas where patents are more useful. Does that account for some of the difference?

Cultural attitudes may play a big role as well. Expert opinions?

Finding Innovation at Tradeshows: Try the International Home and Housewares 2009 Show

Attending large exhibitions and trade shows can be an exhilarating way to stimulate creative ideas and spot external innovations you can use for your business or your own life. One of my favorite events is the International Home and Housewares Show held at the sprawling McCormick Center in Chicago. The 2009 event promises to be exciting and action packed. In spite of the economic downturn, the engines of innovation are still whirring and waiting to be discovered. Join me there, March 22-24, 2009, in Chicago.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Voting Tools for Innovation: Crowdsourcing and the Innovation Cloud

David Greenfield's Information Week article, "How Companies Are Using IT To Spot Innovative Ideas ," highlights a new trend in corporate innovation management: IT tools for online voting for ideas submitted. These tools include voting alone as well as predictive markets - faux markets used to evaluate ideas and make predictions. Excerpt:
In a three-week experiment, GE Research turned its 85 employees into day traders, letting them watch market movements on their screens to decide whether to buy or sell any of 62 stocks. Only the stocks were product ideas in which the company had the option to develop. At stake was $50,000 in research funding that GE would allocate to the highest-valued project.

When the markets closed, GE ended up with a prioritized list of ideas that the collective wisdom of the market thought would best help the company. Topping the list was an algorithm in the area of machine intelligence, an idea pitched directly by a researcher, not through the normal hierarchy of lab managers and senior management.

Dell looked to an even broader market for new product ideas, using's online voting service called Ideas and launching Dell IdeaStorm, where anyone can submit and vote on new features and options for Dell products. Perhaps best known of these ideas is a Linux-based laptop Dell introduced in May 2007. Starbucks uses the same voting platform, at, and took an online suggestion posted Oct. 7 by BillMac to offer a free cup of coffee Nov. 4 to anyone in the United States who voted.

The use of these collective decision-making technologies, both sophisticated prediction markets and simple voting tools, is spreading, and they're increasingly being paired together as a component of corporate innovation programs, helping companies sort through reams of ideas--from new products to customer service to productivity improvements--to find that handful of blockbusters.

A key in any system relying on mass participation is motivating the right people to participate. The software system itself must be user-friendly and offer value, such as providing easy access to ideas that may stimulate one's own thinking, or useful metric about that other groups in the corporation are doing. If outsiders are involved, there must be filters of some kind to pre-select those whose opinions are likely to matter. The ability to pass a CAPTCHA test is not necessarily correlated with having valuable insights.

Will "Innovation Clouds" become the way of the future? Can crowdsourcing help identify the next iPod? Or is it more likely to give us Edsels?

The data from collaborative innovation tools and voting applications can be considered in identifying key innovations, but don't overlook the contributions of your visionary product developers and R&D personnel, especially your multidisciplinary master's of innovation who can serve as "DaVincis in the Boardroom." (A topic in the forthcoming book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue by Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins, and Mukund Karanjikar, to be published by John Wiley & Sons, June/July 2009.)

As James Surowiecki indicated in his famous Wisdom of the Crowds, crowd-based decisions work best when the work is done with a decentralized, diverse, independent population. Will it work for corporate idea management? Not easy! People can readily fall into line and comply with corporate culture and the opinion of local influencers. We'll stay tuned and watch how these concepts play out.