Building an IP Aligned Enterprise: The Vital Role of Your Innovation Committee
Editor’s Note: This is part six of a series entitled “Building an IP Aligned Enterprise: A Guide for Corporate and Technology Leaders.” We will examine the importance of an active and highly functioning Innovation Committee.
- What is IP Alignment and Why Does It Matter to Your Technology Enterprise?
- Exploring the 3 Essential Components of IP Alignment in Technology Enterprises
- 6 Signs Your Technology Enterprise Lacks an Aligned IP Strategy
- The Journey to IP Alignment: Understanding the 3 Stages of Growth
- How to Assess the Current State of IP Alignment in Your Technology Enterprise
- The Vital Role of Your Innovation Committee (this article)
As a leader in the innovation space, you well understand that your intangible assets, including your intellectual property, are your most valuable assets and are the primary differentiators in creating your brand.
Because your IP is the most vital piece of your enterprise’s overall viability, protecting and managing your IP assets needs to be a central focus of your IP aligned business strategy.
The establishment of an Innovation Committee is a crucial first step in protecting existing IP assets, and creating a culture of IP awareness across your company in order to foster innovation in a well-established, secure, and protected environment.
The critical importance of an active and highly functioning Innovation Committee integrated into the overall mechanics of your technology enterprise cannot be overstated. A properly positioned Innovation Committee will have dotted-line oversight over many areas of your organization. They should have the authority to structure, execute, and oversee the IP strategy of the enterprise, and foster an overarching culture of IP awareness throughout.
Empowering Your Innovation Committee
The core responsibility of an Innovation Committee is to oversee and execute your company’s IP strategy as it integrates with your overall business strategy. It is the hub from which decisions regarding the full alignment of your IP strategy are implemented and enforced.
Your Innovation Committee’s remit includes a significant structural oversight component. The committee therefore needs to have the full empowerment and support of every department with which it works, from top to bottom. It is only with this authority that your Innovation Committee can function as it must to implement and execute your company’s overall IP strategy.
To that end, an effective Innovation Committee should be populated with representatives from all relevant areas of your organization. These major stakeholders from across the enterprise should comprise the members of your Innovation Committee:
- Legal: The most integral members of your Innovation Committee, your legal experts are tasked with implementing a comprehensive IP asset protection strategy throughout each key represented department. They coordinate the day-to-day decision making for identifying and protecting your company’s IP, as well as ensuring IP ownership rights are well defined throughout the company’s various agreements. They are also the main enforcement arm should your IP come under threat of infringement or appropriation.
- Executive Leadership: Your Innovation Committee needs to include representatives at the C-level from strategy, finance, and operations. The role of executives on your committee is to maintain alignment between your ongoing IP strategy and your organization’s overarching business goals by setting strategic priorities and serving as gatekeepers for the implementation of initiatives proposed by other key committee stakeholders. Their leadership is critical in creating a culture of IP awareness throughout your organization.
- R&D: Your R&D management works in the proving grounds of the development of your innovation assets, and their role in your Innovation Committee is central to your strategy execution. They bring forward the invention disclosures produced by their teams for review by the committee, and they help develop and enforce the incentives, resources, and policies to foster innovation and IP awareness among your innovators.
- Marketing & Brand Management: The team who oversees the public-facing side of your innovation products are also key players in the protection of your IP assets. Not only will their role in the Innovation Committee inform the way they message to your customers, they can also make recommendations to your R&D and innovation teams around market-informed avenues of development exploration.
Key Responsibilities of Your Innovation Committee
1. IP Awareness Curriculum
An ongoing professional development curriculum as overseen and implemented by your Innovation Committee ensures that fostering IP awareness throughout your organization is a lead priority.
Every department represented on the committee is responsible for overseeing your IP awareness curriculum with relevant teams. When the importance of IP awareness at every level in your organization is consistently and painstakingly emphasized, you are well on your way to developing an IP-aligned culture to best protect the IP assets that make up the core of your company’s valuation and market share.
With an effective IP awareness curriculum, integral parties across your organization will remain primed to protect your IP assets and help grow your market position and revenue.
2. IP Asset Review & Management
The ongoing work of an Innovation Committee centers around the regular review of your company’s IP assets and their development, as well as managing and protecting those assets as they are developed. Some of the main areas the Innovation Committee will focus their oversight are:
- Invention Disclosures: These documents, prepared by the R&D team who develops the potentially patentable innovation, are the starting point for the development process. If the committee stakeholders agree to move forward with the invention, the invention disclosure will serve as the basis for a patent application.
- Monitoring & Assessment of IP Assets: Your Innovation Committee will need procedures in place to regularly audit your existing IP assets, their market viability, and any threats to their value for your company.
- Contract Management: Employee agreements and contracts with vendors, outside contractors and developers, and customers all need to be drafted with IP protection in mind. They are among the most important weapons in defending your IP assets from infringement and ensuring that you own your IP. The legal team on your committee is tasked with making sure all such contracts are current, and that the ownership rights of your assets are clearly defined in the agreements themselves.
3. Processes & Protocols
The establishment and ongoing execution of procedures and protocols to capture innovation, protect it, and ensure that it’s performing at its highest level as a revenue driver, is a complex endeavor that requires buy-in from all relevant parties across your enterprise. Even when protocols are implemented and functioning, it is vitally important to monitor and improve upon their functions. Your Innovation Committee is tasked with these continuing efforts with the goal of fostering and improving a culture of IP-aware protection.
Essential to the protection of your company’s IP, for instance, is the necessity for your entire IP pipeline, from conception to patent or trade secret to product launch, to be subject to a codified review process overseen by appropriate stakeholders appointed by your Innovation Committee. Without such review processes in place, important IP innovations may go to market without the necessary protections to keep your proprietary assets from falling out of your control, thereby diluting your market position. Well-structured and maintained protocols throughout the innovation process will ensure your IP assets bring you the returns your investments require.
4. Inventor Incentives
One of the many functions of your Innovation Committee is the institution of a clearly laid out incentive and reward program with the goal of recognizing the hard work of your inventors and developers. Such programs, if fairly executed, have the effect of increasing morale, spurring innovation, and attracting top talent into your workforce. Most importantly, while ownership remains with your company, your inventors will feel more part of the culture and overall mission of your enterprise if allowed to share in the rewards their hard work garners.
There are a number of different approaches you can take to employee incentivization. Broadly speaking, these two areas can be combined to fit both your overall IP strategy, and encourage rigorous IP innovation among development teams:
- Financial Incentives: One effective model for financially rewarding innovators at your company is to break the incentives out into stages. At the outset, offer a small reward for the production of invention disclosures. If those disclosures move into the patent application stage, offer a larger incentive. Finally, offer your largest incentive if the patent is granted.
- Recognition incentives: Formal recognition of your innovators’ successful work with small gifts, company dinners, or all-points bulletins to the company listserv, can produce goodwill and incentivize employees to keep them moving forward. Often, combining financial and recognition incentives can help control the expenditure of company resources, and prove more effective in encouraging innovation and product development.
The overall valuation of your technology enterprise relies on the strength and security of your intellectual property. Since IP figures so greatly into your company’s viability, the protection of your IP assets is paramount.
Without the central oversight of a well-functioning and robust Innovation Committee, you risk leaving many of your intangible assets unprotected, weakening your market position and the bottom-line value of your company. Your inventors may be unaware of what is patentable or how to properly document their inventions, allowing valuable assets to fall through the cracks. Your contracts and other legal documents may contain gaps that leave your IP open to appropriation. And you may well be blindsided by the innovations of your competitors without properly monitoring your technology landscape.
The establishment and empowerment of a well-organized and staffed Innovation Committee is a critical step in ensuring that your intellectual property, both extant and future, is secure.
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.