Friday, April 22, 2011

More Dangers of the Patent Reform Bill Identified

Sometimes doing nothing isn't such a bad thing. Our patent system could use a few fixes, but not the kind Congress is now pursuing. Folks, if Congress or the Administration really wanted to fix the patent system to BENEFIT innovators and advance the cause of the useful arts, they would NOT imposes a $100 million tax on patent seekers by diverting the money they pay in fees to the USPTO to feed their big spending habits in unrelated sectors. That's right: the inefficiencies and costly delays in our patent system are due, at least in part, to Congress taking away the money that the USPTO receives from inventors. It's a tax on innovation, a ridiculous innovation fatigue factor. Let the USPTO keep and spend the money it receives to advance patent searching and prosecution. Tax tobacco, not innovation and innovators. Our economic recovery needs more innovation, not less.

Now the same group who doesn't mind taxing innovators and adding to the delays at the USPTO have offered "patent reform" to "fix" our patent problems. Sounds great, right? Good intentions, no doubt. But as we warn repeatedly in Conquering Innovation Fatigue, there can be unintended innovation fatigue factors rising even from well-intended actions if policy makers aren't listening to the voice of the innovator. That's the voice of the innovator, not the voice of the largest campaign donors. They might do OK with the reforms being pushed through Congress. It's lone inventors and small companies I'm most worried about. You should be, too.

David Boundy offers a summary of the problems with the patent reform legislation over at Patent Docs. I agree with much of his analysis. From my work in the innovation community, I've seen that the year grace period inventors have in the U.S. from public disclosure to filing a patent really is valuable for lone inventors and small companies, and eliminating it will greatly increase costs and risks. It could be a crushing blow for some.

Read David's article. I look forward to your comments, there or here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Intellectual Assey Strategy That Leads Innovation

The primary problem with most IP management efforts is that they are reactive only. These systems typically focus on incoming invention disclosures and existing patent applications, leading to recommendations on which disclosures to file, which countries to file in, and which existing applications to abandon for cost control. These are vital components for intellectual asset (IA) management, but they fall short in providing strategy that can inform prospective inventors about what kind of inventions are needed.

Effective IA management begins not with the processing of existing documents, but with the development and articulation of vision to guide the process of IA generation and acquisition. It begins with a roadmap of what the corporation needs to own and protect, and that roadmap can then be infused into a written IA strategy statement that guides the IA-generating community to know what they need to create, and also guides IA committees to know what they should be approving.

Written strategy statements can help innovators be more successful and decision makers more disciplined, though there must also be leeway for out-of-the-strategy-box inventions that could lead to unexpected opportunities. However, most IA generating work in a corporation can and should be targeted and focused on specific objectives.

Once a clear vision is communicated regarding the IA needs of the corporation, IA generating activities can be used to supplement normal new product development and R&D. These exercises can be driven by the IA management team to achieve low-cost IA estates in targeted areas for specific objectives, such as averting a disruptive threat, laying a foundation for future IP in a potentially disruptive area where R&D investment is not yet available, weakening the IP potential of a competitive merger or acquisition, etc. At least a portion of the IA generating efforts of a corporation should be driven from the top with a clear objective in mind, rather than waiting for random invention disclosures to trickle up during the course of normal R&D activities. IA strategy should lead innovation.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Conducting Innovation Sessions to Generate IP: Preparation is the Key

At Innovationedge, one of my favorite activities is working with a team in what we call an "Edge Session" to create new intellectual assets. It's not not brain storming, where a flood of bad ideas are welcome, but an iterative process in which the goal is enabled, good concepts that are fleshed out enough to support drafting of a meaningful invention disclosures. A key part of the Edge Session is refining problem statements, moving from broad, vague questions to more specific problem statements that guide inventors on what is needed. We introduce stimulus elements that are coupled with the problem statements to stimulate thinking. The stimulus elements can be used in addressing a problem directly or as associative thinking tools to change the way people look at the problem--all part of the steps along the way to creating records of an enabled invention that, in turn, can readily support IP generation such as drafting a patent application, documenting a trade secret, or preparing a defensive publication.

Preparation has been the key for success. A big part of the preparation is ours as we dig into the literature, patents, and competitive intelligence. Sometimes we conduct pre-workshop interviews to get a landscape of what the client already knows so that we can better begin with that starting point as we help them create and document more.

The preparation by the client is also critical. One key part of their preparation is the selection of team members. Groups of about 5 to 25 people work well, with maybe 7 to 15 being the preferred range. The group works well if there is sufficient diversity in experience and background. For example, even in dealing with highly technical problems, I like to have at least one marketer in the team, someone with great hands-on experience dealing with consumer insights or other sources of marketing information. The perspective a good marketing person can bring is often vital for the success of an IP-generation project.

Teams also can be more effective when the prepare by reading the materials we provide on the prior art, competitive efforts, etc. We recognize, though, that many times team members won't have had adequate time or motivation to prepare other than showing up. We can still squeeze good information from the unprepared, for much of what they have to contribute creatively is already in their heads. It just may take a little more effort to get it out and documented,