Friday 18 September 2009

IP and Innovation, in the Service of SME's

I was following the various tweets and blogs from the prodigious Duncan Bucknell of the iconic IPThinkTank blog in connection with the recent CIP Forum in Gotenberg, Sweden on the "Future of Innovation". One blogpost, entitled "The Biggest Issue in IP Management", particularly caught my attention. In it, Bucknell discusses the lack of attention given to SMEs (small to medium enterprises) as centres of IP and innovation. I quote his comments in an edited fashion below.

"The biggest pool of patents is not at Samsung, or IBM, or LG or IBM or Microsoft, it is in the SME space. We consistently hear (and at the conference, from the likes of Eli Lilly, Microsoft and Philips) that most innovation is occurring at the SME level. Clearly most IP management is occurring there as well. We have all heard about and constantly deal with IP silos within companies, managing IP as a profit centre (and not a cost centre) and communicating value to the Board. Well, the vast majority of IP management has no silos, no profit centre, no cost centre, indeed no centre at all. The vast majority of IP management is done where there is no IP function.

The challenge then, is to develop a set of principles and practices that are transportable across SMEs to large corporations. Accounting principles apply this way, as do marketing, sales, product development, indeed every other function. Large entities have a great interest in helping SMEs to achieve this. They themselves often say that this is where they look for innovation. If they are to acquire IP from SMEs, then they would much rather that it had been carefully nurtured prior to acquisition. Those of us charged with working in or with large and well resourced entities have an opportunity to make a substantial impact by leading the development of these tools."

And so--here is my question. In Bucknell's call for "the development of tools", are we talking about "transportable principles" regarding IP, innovation or some combination of the two? Law faculties now have centres for innovation, where research is carried out on how legal structures help or hinder innovation; business schools devote entire programmes on how innovation is created and exploited for profit. While we instinctively sense that the two terms are not synonymous, the boundaries between them are blurred. Even Bucknell's most interesting blog comments seem to glide between focusing on IP and on innovation.

This blurring matters, because until it is resolved, it will not be possible even to begin the task of developing the tools that Bucknell has urged. Not all IP is related to innovation, nor is all innovation simply a function of creating better IP rights. While IP and innovation may overlap, they do so only partially. IP management may facilitate the ability of an SME to innovate more effectively in its area of activity, but it might also simply enable the SME to effectively exercise its exclusionary IP rights without necessarily contributing to overall innovation. From the vantage of innovation, IP may or may not be essential to the innovative part of the SME's activities; indeed, the innovation may take place far from the concerns that occupy the IP manager.

All of the foregoing is another way of saying that if we are to go about the "development of tools" correctly called for by Bucknell, we will first need to address the prerequisite question: What is the relationship between IP and innovation? Only after we have created a structured approach to answering that question can we then proceed to the "development of tools." Tolkien enabled us to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy even if one proceeded to read The Hobbit only later, or not at all. Unfortunately, we don't have the same luxury here, if we are to move in the direction that Bucknell has urged.

1 comment:

Duncan Bucknell said...

Thanks Neil

I was talking about IP, not innovation. But sure, this would be a very good idea for innovation too.

I wonder whether innovation has a different set of challenges though.