Innovation — whether driving the computer science, pharmaceutical, or biotech industry or fueling advances in electrical or mechanical systems and devices — is so much more than just developing the next great product or process. The chain of innovation over human history is cumulative, with each breakthrough and bold idea building on the ones before it. Innovation is an investment in the future and an answer to a question that leads to the next question.

For an organization that innovates, the chance to be part of that continuing journey is a huge responsibility, but also an opportunity to invest in the future for continued progress in building a better world. Properly captured and protected innovation can also lead to incredibly lucrative IP portfolios that, in addition to advancing society, can be financially rewarding to forward-thinking organizations.

Innovation isn’t an automatic process, though. Setting up the procedures and protocols to capture and capitalize on all the fruits of innovation is a nuanced task and requires a continuing effort to improve methodologies. When developing a structure and organization for your innovation systems, how can business leaders foster the development of a culture that will most effectively inspire and capture the results of their team’s innovation? In this first installment of a two-part series, we’ll explore three key components of capturing innovation in your organization.


1. Building a culture of education

All truly innovative organizations know the difference between knowledge — the comprehension of facts — and education. Education is a living, ongoing commitment to continual learning based on the understanding that innovation comes from being immersed in the always-evolving world of ideas. 

The first step in building a culture of education is ensuring that your team is always up to date with what’s going on in the industry. But providing educational resources such as journals, conferences, and workshops is just the start. It’s vital that these efforts at education be comprehensive, rather than siloed to your research scientists or the R&D department. Every person involved in the innovation process should be included, from IP managers and engineers to analysts. 

The added benefit here is team building. Anyone who helps make your innovation a protectable asset should be cross-trained whenever possible, and this becomes very workable when you consider the amount of specialization that exists in your innovation ecosystem already. Your specialists can fill the gaps in education that could lead to costly oversight, while also establishing a community in your innovation organization.


2. Redundancy without the red tape

Establishing routine redundancies in the innovation process is absolutely essential. Detailed records should be kept that are regularly reviewed by a third party. Many breakthroughs can be lost simply because one person didn’t realize the importance of a particular finding, and without a review process, it’s too easy for potentially important insights and opportunities to slip through the cracks. For example, a new product may be eligible for more protection than was initially thought, but if this isn’t identified before launching, those protections may be forfeited in some markets. Establishing a routine review process for all innovation mitigates this risk.

Conversely, cluttered red tape is to be avoided whenever possible. Bureaucracy is the nature of large-scale pursuits, but it doesn’t have to become so overbearing that it is oppressive to the creativity that pushes your team’s innovation. Innovation requires the freedom to pursue ideas, which is why financial software giant Intuit has long asked their employees to spend 10% of their work time as “unstructured time,” pursuing any ideas or passions they have about how to improve the brand, culture, and products. While these pursuits are still reported and documented through typical company protocols, the allotment of that dedicated free time encourages a culture where employees feel free and are encouraged to innovate. 

Structure and parameters can exist in an environment in which innovators feel free to do their work, but care should always be taken to not bog down the system with excessive paperwork and organizational overload.


3. Reward success appropriately

While the concept of rewarding those who are paid to innovate for doing their jobs may seem redundant, it’s an important ingredient in encouraging innovation within your organization. There are a multitude of ways to implement a reward system for innovators, so it’s important to determine the right approach or combination of approaches for your organization. Rewards can be given on a regular basis, such as quarterly or annually based on achievements, or as a specific benchmark occurs. As to what those benchmarks are, again there are many options. Some companies give awards based on patents registered, and some will reward specific milestones chosen by an oversight board or other entity.

Keep in mind that rewards do not always have to be financial incentives. Peer recognition can not only bolster the person being recognized but also inspire coworkers and encourage your innovation culture to develop further. Prior to 2007, Google would award its best innovators with its financially lucrative Founders Award each year. After 2007 they discontinued that program, calculating that they would get better results from more modest yet more frequent financial rewards accompanied by peer recognition. Their continued innovation and success over the 14 years since that shift in incentivization is at least anecdotal evidence that this approach has been successful.

For your team, innovation is part of their job description. However, you also want them to be passionate about it and feel that the organization appreciates their efforts. An IP portfolio is a massive asset for an organization, so failing to recognize the contributions of team members in building it successfully risks letting the heart of your innovation structure feel marginalized and undervalued. A small gesture can go a long way towards making team members feel that their hard work is worth it.

While these three components to a successful system of capturing innovation are essential pieces of the puzzle, there’s much more. In part two of this series, we’ll discuss three more ways to craft processes to encourage advancements: creating an innovation-stimulating culture, establishing reasonable budgetary constraints, and protecting your assets.

Crafting procedures and protocols to capture the ingenuity and innovation within your organization can be a very complex task, but implementing the concepts discussed here can go a long way to bolstering your innovation ecosystem. For help encouraging and capturing innovation in your organization, consult Dilworth IP today.  


Image credits: Photo by R.F. Studio on Pexels.

This article is for informational purposes, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and may be considered advertising under applicable state laws. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and are not necessarily shared by Dilworth IP, its other attorneys, agents, or staff, or its clients.