Invention mining – finding those gold nuggets

Sometimes you need to do a bit of digging to figure out if there are gold nuggets embedded in your R and D programs that are not being brought to the fore for patenting.  While this might not be a problem for a start-up, it can become an issue as your company gets bigger.

I’ve seen instances where inventors are “patent crazy” and bring everything forward for patenting regardless if it has any commercial value or is even patentable in the first instance.  This probably is not a bad thing since at least the patent department is kept apprised of their innovation and can then assess whether the invention is worth patenting.

However, more often than not, inventor attitudes lie at the other end of the spectrum.  Inventors may keep quiet about their innovation for a myriad of reasons.  Maybe they don’t understand what can or cannot be patented or do not appreciate the value of what they have invented.  Perhaps they do not like the thought of patenting because they believe patents aren’t academically rigorous (compared to peer-reviewed journal publications).  Perhaps there is no mechanism by which to communicate their brilliant idea/invention to decision-makers.   Perhaps they don’t want to spend the time organizing data and other information to support the patent filing because of competing priorities.  Maybe they misunderstand the legal standard for non-obviousness and incorrectly make the assessment that their invention is not patentable on this basis.  The list goes on.

If your company is relatively large, good communication, education about the patenting process and a culture of fostering communication across the different functionalities in an organization can help alleviate the above problem.  A particular challenge in this area is that business folks often think differently than innovators.  To business people, a patent is something to be exploited for its value to the organization, while technical staff may see a patent as an expression in concrete form of their creativity.  Finding a common ground between the two groups (patent and R&D groups) in an organization can help bridge the gap.

For example, explaining that patent publications can be academically rigorous (if prepared properly) and will lend credibility to their reputation in the scientific community can go a long way in encouraging communication of their innovation.  An invention disclosure form and a process for reviewing filled out forms can also help.  Such forms are essentially questionnaires that provide relevant information to the patent agent about the invention to assess its value to the organization.  However, such forms should be reviewed and assessed in a transparent manner to gain the trust of inventors.  Feedback should be prompt with detailed reasons as to why or why not the invention is being considered for patenting.  As indicated in a previous post, inventor recognition programs can also encourage inventors to come forward with their inventions.

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