Top 5 Questions About Implementing Open Innovation

A series of executive roundtables on open innovation conducted around the United States and in the United Kingdom in late 2008 generated much debate. Even so, common themes developed around questions dealing with implementation, conflict over intellectual property, creating open innovation networks, and creating measurement systems. Here are my answers to the Top Five Questions on Open Innovation:

How do I implement open innovation in my organization?
The biggest issue with implementation is that you cannot simply copy another company. Too often a CEO mandates an open innovation initiative because it works for another company and thinks it can simply be duplicated. It just doesn’t work that way. Another issue comes as a result of the lack of company-wide engagement. A go-getter director initiates a program for a department, typically R&D, and the rest of the company is indifferent or even resistant to the changes.

Finally, implementation deals with an intangible problem created in a company probably already in shock from too many recent changes to the organization,virtual roundtables making it unable to process yet another restructure or corporate culture adjustment.

Every company is unique and must develop an approach to open innovation that fits its needs. Make sure the engagements are the right size. In several cases clients expressed remorse that an open innovation project took two full quarters to implement and then came the realization that the market potential for the project is too small, making the open innovation effort seem trivial.

How do I strike a balance between open innovation and intellectual property?
The big challenge for any company that has not mandated open innovation from the highest level is that legal departments will try to preserve the status quo. As a result, the legal framework is too rigid and stifling to open innovation operations. And all too often traditional executions of legal agreements take too much time to generate. Easily half a quarter can be lost waiting for legal documents that would allow you and the client to start working.

A significant legal improvement for joint development, usually associated with open innovation, occurred in 2004 with The Cooperative Research and Technology Enhancement Act of 2004. Before the revision, Section 103(c) provides “a safe harbor for inventions that are the product of collaboration involving co-inventors within a single company. However, scientific research is increasingly being conducted jointly by multiple companies, universities, government labs, and/or other entities.” That is why the Create Act amended the law so that with joint development agreements in place, entities can patent the research from joint projects as commonly seen in open innovation.

How do I assemble a good open innovation network?
Without a network, open innovation is dead. We examined the different types of connections: solution bounty, internally prequalified, business partners, suppliers, and crowd sourcing:

1. A Solution Bounty offers a reward for offering a solution to a specific question. On the positive side, it is easy to establish through a third-party, and typically you will find an extremely large number of innovators connected. Some of the disadvantages include the tendency towards innovation against specification which can be too myopic. And transparent problem briefs signal strengths and weaknesses to your competitors.

2. Internally Prequalified typically exist in the largest companies in OI. IP issues are handled upfront and the framework supports innovation-against-specification and mission innovation based on the closer engagements between the client and members.

3. Business Partners typically are rich in resources compared with typical small innovators, and they are more inclined to think bigger and understand the innovation mission. Some detractors with engaging business partners include the danger that the partner can claim the joint project and you end up boxed out. Also, make sure IP issues are addressed up front.

4. Suppliers have inside knowledge of your strategy, and ideally, are more likely to generate disruptive technology. Supplier relationships tend to mitigate IP issues, too. If they value your business, they have a lot to lose if something fails. So normally, suppliers do not squabble over IP so they can maintain client relationships.

5. Not all businesses have strong opportunities in Crowd Sourcing. If you are in such a business, crowd sourcing builds customer loyalty and practical knowledge of your value proposition. The primary detractor is the cost associated with managing customer-feedback processes.

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