I was delighted when Bill Meade, President of Basic IP Management, Inc. agreed to an interview about managing innovation and intellectual property to maximize profits. Bill served as Intellectual Property Manager and Future Products Manager at Hewlett-Packard, where he “lit the fire” that moved HP from #18 in US patenting to #3. He has run over 200 invention workshops around the world.
Q: What are some of the surprising things you have learned about inventors?
A: My three biggest surprises have been about prolific inventors.
- Nobody knows who they are.
Example: Last workshop we ran, the top inventor turned in over 30 complete invention disclosures. The IP attorneys had never seen him before. The way you find them is by asking everyone to invent.
- They are as motivated by peer pressure as by incentives, you don’t need to motivate them directly.
Example: One prolific inventor went from 12 disclosures per year to 200 per year after we started running invention workshops at his company, but he never went to a workshop. Just increasing awareness of the amount of inventing in the environment motivates prolific inventors.
- Prolific inventors are contagious.
Example: Another prolific inventor at HP became an on-ramp for the IP department finding inventing talent by bringing groups of not-yet-inventors to weekly invention office hours to learn how to complete disclosures.
Q: How do you define Intellectual Property (IP)?
A: We define IP as products of the human mind that have commercial value and are legally defensible. This includes patents, trade secrets, and copyright material. It also includes the defensive publication of ideas, which prevent their use as patents by competitors. If you look at managing IP at a company like IBM, they actively manage all four of these forms of intellectual property.
Q: Based on your experience, how do VPs of R&D/Engineering look at the managing IP?
A: In my experience R&D management tends to under value IP creation and management because they are not measured on it directly. It’s hard to measure: the effects of a strong or weak approach can take years to manifest. Invention disclosures, patent filings, and patents granted are all lagging indicators and are still only a poor proxy for patents successfully litigated or licensed.
Q: What are the aspects of developing and managing IP that get underestimated?
A: One of the biggest is how much more intellectual property their people can document and allow the corporation to protect if properly encouraged. This latent and often untapped potential for additional IP can be encouraged and directed toward the strategic objectives of the corporation. Many companies pay bonuses for invention disclosures and patents, but they underestimate the value of allocating blocks of time to writing invention disclosures and simplifying both the disclosure forms and the evaluation process so that they are much less of a burden on the potential inventor.
Q: What drives IP strategy?
A: Most IP strategy is developed in response to an IP crisis, for example being sued unexpectedly. Once an IP crisis happens, the company will start climbing the IP management learning curve, with management, lawyers, outside consultants, all hands scrambling.
The only good thing about an IP crisis is that the need for additional IP to manage the situation becomes crystal clear.
The biggest problem with managing IP by crisis is that very little long-term learning happens from crises. The litigators declare victory and move on to the next crisis. The managers are just happy to have the situation closed. Corporate counsel is left burned out and un-thanked. IP portfolio managers having survived litigation often leave their position, and often, their company.
Q: OK, so what should drive IP strategy?
A: We think there are perhaps a half dozen good answers:
- Protect sales & product differentiation
- Stop competitor formation
- Buy oligopoly membership
- Solve patent crises
- Reduced litigation
- License revenue
Q: What are some better practices you have seen at the engineering leadership level?
A: Several best practices for creating business value by defining and implementing an IP strategy:
- Target the inventing you want
- Tell your inventors what you want them to invent and why
- Train your inventors and transfuse them with enthusiasm for inventing.
- Measure using an objective rating process and provide quantitative feedback from idea rating.
- Provide infrastructure for closed loop feedback between IP team and inventors.
More background on Bill Meade
Bill Meade is President of Basic IP Management, Inc. Prior to Basic IP, Bill served as Intellectual Property Manager and Future Products Manager at Hewlett-Packard with responsibilities including managing the business side of patent litigation, implementing IP strategy, damages estimation, increasing the strategic alignment of IP to LaserJet businesses, IP business process development including a world-wide invention incentive payment system. Bill “lit the fire” that moved HP from #18 in US patenting to #3, running over 200 invention workshops for HP across the US and around the world. Bill has also served as Assistant Professor of Marketing at University of Missouri, where he moderated internet discussion lists for Geoffrey Moore and Guy Kawasaki. Bill holds a BA in Finance, an MBA in marketing, and a Ph.D. in marketing with minors in evolutionary ecology, econometrics, statistics, and electrical engineering, all from Michigan State University – The Eli Broad Graduate School of Management.
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