Our Misguided Focus on Patents

by Mike Shipulski

Our Misguided Focus on PatentsIs it patented? Can we patent that? We need a @#!$%& patent and we need it now! You hear that a lot these days. Everyone wants to be part of the new economy, the thinking economy, and patents are the key, right? No.

Patents are the results of something – good, old-fashioned innovation. The big mistake companies make is to focus directly on patents instead of focusing on innovation which can then be patented. Sounds like a subtle difference, but it’s as subtle as the difference between lightning and lightning bug. (Stolen from Mark Twain.)

Patents are the currency of innovation, not the innovation itself, just as our paper money is the currency for wealth, and not the gold reserve itself. We use paper money to stand for the gold, but, implicitly, there’s wealth backing it up. Just as it’s misguided for a country to print money without something to back it up (strong gold reserves), it’s misguided for a company to create patents without something to back them up – innovative technologies, technologies that make a difference to the customer.

Innovation is the gold that backs up patents, the currency of innovation.

Would you rather have lots of paper money and no gold, or lots of gold that allows you to print lots of money? We get this one wrong when we focus on paper patents instead of golden innovation. Why do we mess it up? Because printing money and filing patents are easy, and digging gold and doing innovation are hard. Patents are fast and innovation is slow. Companies want the free lunch, there’s no such thing.

What to do when there are no patents? Do innovation. What to do when there is no time to do innovation? Do innovation. What to do when there is no money to do innovation? Do innovation. What to do? Do innovation.

The road to a full portfolio of innovative technologies is a long one, but it’s paved with gold.

What else are they saying about 'Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire'

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Mike ShipulskiDr. Mike Shipulski (certfied TRIZ practioner) brings together the best of TRIZ, Axiomatic Design, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (2006 DFMA Contributer of the Year), and lean to develop new products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.

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  1. I wrote something similar in 2002, mine was called “Why Innovation is Dangerous for your Health” and although I used the word “innovation” I was using it in the context of businesses mistaking invention for innovation. I cite an example of a public-listed company which went bust – destroyed all their shareholder value – by getting sidetracked into invention and patents whereas they THOUGHT this was nohting different to business innovation.

    I just uploaded this old girl up to Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/doc/33803323

    Walter Adamson @g2m
    xeesm.com/walter

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