Jun 27, 2016
As I previously wrote for CompanyWeek, common misconceptions regarding the purpose and value of patents can sometimes lead businesses to neglect or overlook their intellectual property. In that article, I set out to clear up some of those misconceptions and thereby encourage more companies to adopt a "pro-patent" culture.
But once an executive team makes the decision to begin actively protecting company innovations, there may be a struggle to get buy-in from engineers and scientists not used to the additional procedures that are typically put in place when a pro-patent culture is adopted. So how can a new pro-patent philosophy be instilled throughout a workforce? Several ideas for accomplishing this are discussed below.
Institute a patent reward program
As the saying goes, money talks, and offering a financial incentive to employees that actively engage in and assist with the process of formally seeking patent protection can quickly motivate a reluctant team to get behind a new pro-patent philosophy. And the good news is that there is no limit to the specific design of a patent rewards program, meaning every company can institute incentives that are tailored to its unique circumstances. For example, a monetary award can be offered to employees that prepare and submit invention disclosure forms as a means of encouraging researchers to bring new ideas to the decision makers tasked with the job of deciding on which ideas to file for patent protection. Awards can also be tied to when a patent application is filed or granted in order to motivate employees to collaborate with patent attorneys during the drafting and examination of patent applications, which typically reduces legal costs. Openly advertising such patent incentives can quickly yield results with respect to achieving company-wide acceptance of a new pro-patent culture.
Hold meetings to identify patentable technology
Scheduling regular meetings (e.g., monthly or quarterly) where team members share the progress they are making on projects or research can help to create a more collaborative work force and spur new ideas. Such meetings can also serve as an opportunity to identify new technology on which patent protection will be sought. Selecting a team of engineers tasked with the job of identifying projects discussed during meetings for potential patent protection can help to make employees feel more invested in the patent process. And cycling engineers on and off this team can, over time, expose an entire work force to that feeling of involvement and ownership. Finally, because project status meetings are typically already being held within most companies, very little additional effort is required in order to implement this idea.
Adopt electronic lab notebooks
Electronic lab notebook (ELN) software is often advertised on the idea that it helps collaboration and reduces redundant research. However, an added benefit not often discussed is that ELN software organically takes care of the real-time documentation of new ideas that is typically recommended as part of a sound corporate patent policy. In other words, rather than burdening engineers with additional paperwork related to documenting potentially patentable ideas, ELN software automatically creates this information as part of the documentation an engineer is already accustomed to carrying out. Additionally, ELN software can be used to make filling out invention disclosure forms less burdensome for engineers. When so much of the resistance to a new patent policy can stem from an engineer’s desire to avoid additional work, ELN software helps to mitigate this issue and thus facilitate employee acceptance.
Bring in outside help
Simply educating your workforce on the ins and outs of patents and the process of obtaining a patent can often times make employees feel more comfortable with and accepting of pursing patent protection. Many patent attorneys will gladly give presentations to engineering teams on any of a variety of different patent topics, such as how to fill out an invention disclosure form, how to identify when a patentable idea has been developed, or the basic process and timeline of how a patent application is examined at the U.S. Patent Office. Better yet, some patent attorneys will speak on these topics at no cost to your company. And the icing on the cake is that a more educated workforce makes a patent attorney's job easier and more cost-effective, and often leads to a better end product.
Change can be difficult, and shifting to a pro-patent culture is no exception. Yet as discussed above, there are many relatively simple ways in which this transition can be made easier for everyone involved.
Scott Brairton is counsel in Perkins Coie’s patent prosecution group and served as a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent Office prior to becoming a patent attorney. Reach Scott at 303/291-2368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.