Open Innovation – Filing a non-patent

The top 25 companies by US patent value was released by Business Week and it is worth a look. IBM generated the largest number of patents while Microsoft generated patents of the highest value (according to the BW study).

The number of patents involved at IBM is a simply mind-boggling 4,914. That’s over 13 patentable inventions a day. Not a bad brain trust.

But what caught my eye was a paragraph at the bottom of the story:

As a defensive measure, the company also published details on almost 4,000 inventions in a publicly available company journal last year.

By publishing I believe they ensure that no one can patent the ideas. Since many companies are racing towards the same goal the prospect of inventors stepping on each other’s toes is not far fetched. The value of publishing trade secrets outweighed the negative impact of letting folks in on what they were doing. I’m sure the published advances had less strategic or economic value than those that were patented, but it still does seem to go a bit against the grain of corporate secrecy one has come to expect.

The shelf life of a corporate secret has been greatly diminished over the past decade.

Patents have real economic value but bringing an element of open innovation to the table can also have its own significant value. In this case preventing the patent process from slowing down development of other initiatives by both IBM and their competitors.

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8 Responses to Open Innovation – Filing a non-patent

  1. Andrew says:


    Interesting – I wonder if this is a sign of changing business trends. Is it possible that over time we will see a shift in emphasis away from the formal patenting process and toward this kind of openness?

    • There are a significant number of technologists who seem ready to embrace the possibility. The entire open source movement is based on the idea of making share and share alike the rule of the day. I think part of this might be a reaction to the patent process overstepping – patenting overly broad concepts or seemingly obvious prior art rather than the traditional focus on specific inventions – a trend that seems to be slowing. A more reasoned approach probably is some combination of open and patents. There are plenty of reasons to give inventors a decade or two to enjoy the fruits of their labor before being copied directly.

  2. Paul Cornies says:

    I follow Waterloo’s Research in Motion and their Blackberry quite closely. It seems there is a lot of competition in this sector which leads to suits about patent infringements. It’s a major headache for the company if the suits are questionable as they draw out in the courts for a long time.

    • The Cell phone industry seems to be littered with these suits. I believe Apple and Nokia are in the process of waging all out war over alleged mutual patent infringements.

  3. kay plantes says:

    I learned today that the US Patent Office is so backed up that it takes years for patents to be issued. I suspect this is part of IBM’s decision to “publish.”

    Patents are a measure of our innovation and while the US remains ahead of other countries, our lead is closing significantly. This factor, combined with the growing commoditization of most markets that sends work overseas has hindered job creation significantly. The best thing that Obama can do is to pursue an innovation agenda:
    1. Far more money in basic research, which the government funds;
    2. Create incentives for companies to pool resources together (perhaps with Government match) to engage in development too expensive for any one company, but critical to our country’s future manufacturing;
    3. Fix our PK-12 schools;
    4. Allow the PhDs we educate and PhDs from other countries to reside here—our economic security is far more of an issue than our physical security as far as I can read;
    5. Make a class in entrepreneurship and economics mandatory for every HS and College student. We’d change our culture within a generation;
    6. Make it more financially attractive to invest in start ups and early stage companies;
    7. Create a health care plan for start-ups so that lack of health care does not stop people from being entrepreurs;
    8. Create a Golden Globes for entrepreneurs with Steve Martin hosting.

    • Great list here Kay. I think I would only broaden your point about the k-12 schools to include somehow dealing with the environment around the schools as well as within. But maybe the Entrepreneurship Golden Globes is the real answer here. Make inventing sexy again. I really like that.

  4. J.D. Meier says:

    Patents are an interesting game. I wanted to learn more about the process, so one year I filed 8. I learned a lot. The toughest part was creating a visual example to show the unique value or “secret sauce.” It was yet another example, where it’s not good enough to have a good idea … you need to show it and sell it to others in a way that sticks.

  5. LaVonn says:

    Fascinating discussion on a challenging topic…Coming from a product development background the need to patent “everything” is, in my opinion, a deterrent to growth. And, when you get into a place where we start “owning” broad, conceptual thinking — well, it becomes a mess even for the most dedicated innovator.