In today’s competitive world, almost all businesses thrive on innovation and ownership. Genuine business assets including ideas and concepts are protected with the help of Intellectual Property or IP
Does the competitive business world of today differ a lot from the days of the past? The honest answer would be both yes and a no. Although it is obvious why many would have chosen yes, there are reasons why No is an answer. Well, it is a NO because of the economy. Is the economy the same as the one that was experienced 30 or 50 years ago? It did not have the same pits and falls or driving forces like that of today.
What is different about the economy and why do businesses pay more attention to IP than ever before?
We see many companies create their R&D departments, hire exclusive engineers and designers, include programmers and researchers to allocate a bulk of their budget to invest on inventors who bring IP. On the other side, there is an explosion of innovation and creativity among many common people who become inventors of products and business models. Often, these common people have no experience or expertise in business or technical training.
Why do businesses show interest in IP? The answer is simple and straightforward. It is because IP pays back. It pays both the investor and the inventor. It does not matter if the business buys the invention or fund them, it pays all. In business, demand and supply are two very closely related forces. Demand creates more supply and vice versa. Let us consider this: When it comes to a new business, they would want to showcase their product in shelves in supermarkets. These shelves are also packed with products supplied from various other companies. There is usually no option to expand the shelf in the supermarket. This is when there is a dispute. The new company will grab the public’s attention only if it has some special features than the reputed company that sells the product. The special feature could be anything – a lower price, a special ingredient, better look, better value, improvised quality, eco-friendly materials or ingredients or simply any feature that the customer would appreciate now or in the future. Now, it is time for the existing business to safeguard itself from the competition. They have to keep their space on the shelf in order to stay in business. How do they help themselves? They do the same thing as the new companies. They keep updating their features. They use innovative technology to make them sound and feel better than their competitor. Intellectual property and patents. Patents are the best way to keep the products in business for a long time.
Years ago, when I was the director of New Product Development in a company in New Jersey, I was asked to design a new baby seat that could be installed on shopping carts of major retail stores in the US and Canada. The company was the best in the field for developing commercial equipment and products for the retail environment. I still consider the company’s president as one of the smartest businessmen who I ever worked with. I was confused. I asked him, “Our company is the best in the market and we lead the industry with the baby seats that we have designed earlier. Why do you want to invest money, effort and time into a new product when your company already has the best of them?” He answered calmly, “Nurturing business is like taking care of a plant. You cannot bring life to a plant that has dried from drought. You have to water it regularly to keep it alive and thriving. In fact, reviving a half-dead plant is much harder than keeping it healthy. ” For me, it was a valuable lesson indeed. I was lucky to learn another important lesson from him. One day, he announced that he was making an offer to buy one of the competing firms that declared bankruptcy. It was on the brink of shutting down completely. I was shocked. I asked him, ” Why do you want to buy a dying firm? I suppose they do not have anything that you would want or need. Am I missing something?” The president replied, “Yes, I understand that this company is almost dead. It is possibly a goner but they do have something that I want. They have several patents. These would open more market opportunities for the owner of these patents. I am very interested in this dying company just for their valuable patents.” So, this made me realize that demand for innovation and inventions creates a supply of new ideas. New ideas give new solutions that in turn give new proposals that eventually turn into business offers.
Modern technology and the advanced communication techniques have very much helped in the demographics aspect. There are a number of TV shows like the “Shark Tank” that features people from different social, professional and educational backgrounds who meet potential investors. Viewers of these programs soon realize that you do not have to be rich to make money. You do not always have to come from an influential family to make more money or invent new things. The critical factors that help you make an invention would be observation, creativity, the skills or abilities, and the willingness to act on the perceived idea. The logical idea to kick start your business idea is to tackle the financial needs and the initial investment for many independent inventors. Many crowd-funding websites like Quirky.com, fundanything.com, Ulile.com help collecting the required money to kick-start your business. I do know some of the inventors at a personal level, who have managed to get money from these websites. They have been successful with their approach and fund their own project. The development of their ideas has led them to manufacture products based on their ideas. I must admit that crowd-funding does NOT work for all. It is not a permanent solution!
If you ask me how I’d see the future in the field of Intellectual property rights – the invention and innovation – I’d say that I look at it like a river that gets more water, become stronger, wider and wilder!