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An effective IP harvesting system requires an organised approach, possible incentives for your IP team and regular engagement with inventors.
What is the role of IP harvesting?
As Cassie explained, IP harvesting is the collection of ideas for patentability. He said the ideas that go on to form the basis of new products or inventions come from human knowledge, and that the objective of harvesting is to “collate and codify” this knowledge and convert it into intellectual assets.
He said a well-managed harvesting process is key, as it ensures the best possible, low-risk IP portfolio for a company, as well as products and inventions that have strong positions in their relevant markets.
The harvesting process
The IP harvesting process is a pipeline, Cassie said.
In the early stages of the pipeline, candidate ideas are added to a funnel. He said that at this gathering stage, IP teams should be making “wide scrapes” and putting as many ideas into the funnel as possible.
Next is what he described as a “threshing process”, which filters out those ideas which could add value to the business now and in the future. Of those that are selected, action is then taken to secure the IP rights for those ideas, as well as identify the IP risks associated with them.
“You need to keep on pulling new ideas into pipeline and keep doing this harvesting process to keep populating and refreshing the IP portfolio of your company,” he said.
When it comes to best practices in IP harvesting, a company’s best asset is its team.
“You need to build a high-yield culture. You need to sit back and think about how best to gather information,” he said.
He said an important part of the process is for companies to organise their team members in a way which will make best use of its resources, and that often this is best done by assigning people specific roles within the IP harvesting process.
One important factor to consider here is who in the company, or how a company makes decisions about which ideas pass the “threshing process”.
Another way companies can improve IP harvesting is to incentivise the process.
He said a good way to do this is to take a “tiered approach”, which rewards IP teams at each stage of the harvesting process.
Likewise, other people respond better to “recognition awards”, such as league tables and being commended for their work, Cassie said.
Cassie said one approach which works less well is targeted performance management.
“If you set an objective for your team to file 500 inventions a year, that does tend to be an incentive but it can encourage bad behaviors it the focus just about winning a numbers game,” Cassie said.
“In both of these, it can lead to people over submitting invention ideas for low quality ideas and end up filing patent applications you wouldn’t otherwise file,” he added.
Cassie also touched on best practices for creating invention disclosure forms for innovators.
He said that while there are no right answers, he has found in his practice that the fewer questions asked of the inventor the better, at the initial stage at least.
Good questions to ask include: What is the title of the invention? What is the problem the invention is trying to solve?
These are then followed by a brief description of how the problem will be solved by the invention.
“You want to encourage inventors and make it easy for them to fill this out,” Cassie said.
If the invention then passes the threshing stage, you can then go back and ask for additional information, he added.
“Inventors tend to be quite modest,” Cassie said. “So quite often, I find myself engaging with an inventors who do not see that what they are doing is worthy of protection.”
He said that to overcome this, inventors should be urged not to make decisions about the patentability of an idea.
“An inventor’s job is to tell us what they have come up with. It’s our job to tell them whether it is of value,” Cassie said.
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