I have just facilitated a great session on how to use social media for innovation efforts together with participants from P&G, Shell, MeadWestVaco, Mattel, Psion and Whirlpool. At the session, several people stated that they need to change their perspective on this topic; it is much more important than they initially expected it to be.
Although, we had a great day together, we also ran into some difficulties when we started a discussion on the role of intellectual property (IP) on this intersection. To be honest, I have downplayed the importance of IP over the last couple of years, but here it really showed how important – and potentially limiting – it can be for open innovation.
At the session, we in particular discussed crowdsourcing-like initiatives in which mostly individuals contribute with their ideas and insight. Here IP is not that big an issue as most individuals do not really care too much that they submit ideas on a non-confidential basis meaning that the platform owner can do more or less what they want to do with the input unless it is proctected or potentially proctected by a patent.
Another key topic at the session was the development of b-t-b communities in which companies – are more rightfully so – their employees share insights and knowledge and build further on the ideas of others. Here it gets more complicated as these employees are bound by their obligations to their companies with respect to ideas and intellectual property created.
Since these obligations actually hinder such employees from entering open innovation communities, we had a good discussion on what you can do here. Some ideas:
• You can work with a creative common like approach in which the IP created is shared. Unfortunately, this does not work for most companies planning to start such communities as they want to own or at least control the IP created.
• You can organize your community in layers in which the first layer is focused on more general interactions in which you do not really share insights or develop ideas that are impacted by IP issues. You can then have another layer – or move such discussions out of the community and into 1-1 settings – if you have a discussion that develops in this direction.
• In some industries, you can let go of IP issues all together if you believe that the execution of ideas matters the most and that you can operate with trade secrets. This is not really an option, but it does imply that companies need to change their thinking on how they work with IP issues if they want to take open innovation to the next level.
This is a tricky and difficult topic. What do you think of this?