Without inventors, there would be no intellectual property. For this reason, inventors in engineering and research & development (R&D) roles need to be freed of administrative burdens and given extra latitude to facilitate their creative processes.
The nature of patent filing requires inventors to participate in invention disclosure since no one is as close to the invention as they are. However, IP attorneys and corporate executives can take action to streamline the disclosure process, maximizing its efficiency and transparency so inventors can spend more time doing what they do best: creating and developing ideas that will ultimately benefit their employers.
Here are seven secrets for IP counsel to improve inventor relations:
1. Remember: “Inventors” Have Day Jobs
In most companies, the role of engineering and R&D personnel is to design and enhance products and services - and NOT to submit invention disclosure forms. If you were to ask inventors to list their core responsibilities, they would probably not include submitting invention disclosure forms.
Therefore, IP counsel must make the invention disclosure process as simple as possible. Ideas can be collected via simple forms and mobile apps, so IP lawyers should make sure that these tools are both intuitive and easily accessible to inventors.
2. Public Recognition Pays Off
Most people work better when motivated by awards and incentives, and many companies give inventors monetary awards upon patent filing and/or issuance. Some also provide compensation for submission of invention disclosures.
And non-financial awards can provide compelling incentives, too. Non-financial incentives used by companies today include:
Cubes, bricks, blocks, puzzle pieces (often proudly and prominently displayed on the desks of prolific inventors)
Plaques for the inventor to keep and/or hang on a wall of fame at corporate HQ
Trophies, sculptures, or other adornments for bookcases and desks
Awards banquets in honor of successful inventors
Public recognition by the CEO or other prominent leaders at corporate events
Badges, icons or other identifiers in corporate listings
3. Know Your MVIs (Most Valuable Inventors)
It is critical that IP counsel know who their company’s most valuable inventors are – and not just the most prolific inventors, but rather those whose patents are truly valuable. To pinpoint who the MVIs are, IP lawyers must rate and rank their portfolios to identify the inventors who are responsible for patents most valuable to the organization.
Once you know who these key inventors are, consider providing them with additional perks such as translation services for non-native speakers, access to collaboration platforms to engage with other top inventors, and administrative or paralegal assistance in preparing and submitting invention disclosure forms.
4. Look to Product Management and Marketing for Ideas
Naturally, IP departments look to engineering and R&D for innovation. However they should consider expanding their reach to work with other departments across the organization. For example, product management understands not only a product and its roadmap, but also the product features its customers are requesting.
Also, product marketing understands the market and competitive landscape, giving them a good vantage point to spot opportunities for innovation. Both product management and product marketing groups can provide a rich source of new ideas and inventions, and neither should be overlooked.
5. Internally Market Your Patent Program
The cornerstone of marketing is communicating a compelling message at the right time to your target audience. Keeping this in mind, IP counsel need to publicize their patent programs to inventors, telling them how the program works, training them on technology they need to use, and explaining what rewards they can earn.
If recognition or competitive contests are part of the program, be sure to promote them. Include mentions of these initiatives in corporate newsletters, hold promotional and celebratory events, and keep interested parties in the loop about who wins what to increase the cachet and buzz for achievements. The company’s internal corporate communications or external marketing teams can be called upon for assistance with these efforts.
6. Engage with Inventors Regularly
When possible, meet with inventors face-to-face, and tell them specifically what types of inventions are valuable and should be documented. Consider meeting with inventors from different departments simultaneously in a group brainstorming or “blue-sky” session.
Note that in-house IP counsel should strive to understand the competitive landscape and provide some directional guidance to inventors prior to hosting blue-sky sessions.
These discussions with inventors provide ideal opportunities to generate new ideas. And the benefits of meeting in person are not only derived from what is said verbally.
Being able to witness non-verbal feedback such as eye contact (or lack thereof), leaning forward, anxiety or frustration among inventors during an in-person meeting will enable you to probe further and provide additional clarification or defuse problems.
7. Track Inventor Satisfaction and Be Open to Change.
It’s typical that inventors are relied on to “create on demand” for their employers, and yet their own satisfaction is not checked often. Since inventors are the lifeblood of IP, the more satisfied they are with their work environment, the more productive they will likely be.
Check in with inventors on a regular basis with one-on-one or small group meetings to gather input. Conduct anonymous quick 5-question surveys to gauge their morale and motivation levels. By asking inventors what they want, companies can respond as they see fit and reduce negative obstacles to creativity.
Of course, once the feedback is gathered, organizations must be open to making changes to improve working conditions.