[EAS] The Inventor's Comeback?
pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Thu May 6 03:16:00 EDT 2004
Subject: The Inventor's Comeback?
Be sure to read all three items. --PJK
(from INNOVATION, 5 May 2004)
THE INDEPENDENT INVENTOR MAKES A COMEBACK
The number of U.S. patent applications and subsequent awards has
more than doubled over the past 15 years, reflecting Americans'
never-ending craving to create "bigger, better" versions of just
about everything. "This is an extraordinarily inventive age," says
Arthur Molella, director of the Smithsonian Institution's Lemelson
Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. "I think we're
feeling changes such as people felt at the beginning of the last
century, when they suddenly had the ability to travel all about the
world." Indeed, technology is playing a major role in invention
today, with nearly half of all patent applications in the
electronic- or computer-related fields. And while the corporate labs
have been prolific in cranking out inventions, a full 25% of
patents granted each year still go to so-called independent
inventors, and that percentage may be increasing. "For a long time,
industry didn't want anything to do with the independent inventor
because they were too unrealistic in their expectations," says Bob
Lougher, executive director of the United Inventors Association.
"But now, corporate America is reaching out to the independent
inventor." (MSNBC 22 Apr 2004)
THE CHANGING FACE OF INNOVATION
Big companies in search of the next big blockbuster should set their
sights a little lower, says Adrian Slywotzky of Mercer Management
Consulting. "In most industries, truly differentiating new-product
breakthroughs are becoming increasingly rare." With that in mind,
companies have been shifting their R&D efforts away from in-house
labs looking for that next "Eureka!" moment (think AT&T's Bell Labs
and Xerox PARC), and transforming it into an "internal,
bureaucratically driven process," says NYU professor William
Baumol. Increasingly, what constitutes innovation in large firms is
a series of incremental improvements in daily operational processes.
Meanwhile, those companies still looking for the "Big Bang"
innovation are buying up small, creative startups, which currently
dominate the introduction of new inventions and radical
innovations, or even looking to offshore outsourcing for the next
big idea. For instance, Wipro, in India, employs 6,500 people in
Bangalore to do R&D for Western companies -- including nine out of
the world's top ten telecom equipment manufacturers. (The Economist
22 Apr 2004)
(from INNOVATION, 28 April 2004)
WHY STRUGGLE WITH NEW WHEN 'DESIGN-AROUND' WILL DO?
Patent attorneys say that increasingly companies are imitating their
rivals' products, while tweaking their own versions just enough to
avoid a patent infringement suit. The strategy, called
"design-around," is gaining popularity as companies shift more
manufacturing outside the U.S. in an effort to lower costs.
"There's really been a spike in this sort of activity in the last
few years," says patent attorney Jack Barufka. "We design around
competitor patents on a regular basis," says James O'Shaughnessy,
VP and chief intellectual property counsel at Rockwell Automation.
"Anybody who is really paying attention to the patent system, who
respects it, will still nevertheless try to find ways -- either
offshore production or a design-around -- to produce an equivalent
product that doesn't infringe." The practice is particularly common
among auto parts and semiconductor manufacturers and other large
markets where newcomers are seeking a way to gain a foothold.
Meanwhile, the trend is pushing up R&D costs as companies that come
up with original ideas try to protect their inventions by coming up
with a dozen other ways to achieve the same result -- and patent
those, too. "A patent is basically worthless if someone else can
design around it easily and make a high-performing component for
less," says patent attorney Morgan Chu. (Wall Street Journal 19 Apr
http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB108233054158486127,00.html (sub req'd)
More information about the EAS-INFO