Creating An Innovation Culture At Your Biotechnology Company
Intellectual property is a core business asset of your biotechnology company. Especially at an early stage, it is important to build a broad and deep patent portfolio. Patents help you attract capital, establish exclusivity in your markets, and provide bargaining chips in case of confrontation with competitors.
To build a patent portfolio, you need to promote a culture of innovation at your company in which employees are on the lookout for new inventions and motivated to bring them to the attention of management. How can you develop an innovation culture? Focus on three things – creating awareness, providing incentives and actively investigating new developments.
1. Create Awareness
The first step in promoting an innovation culture is creating awareness of the value of intellectual property. Employees need to understand that intellectual property is critical to the success of the company and that each employee has a responsibility for contributing to the company’s IP. Here are some things you can do to create awareness.
Have annual, company-wide meetings to educate employees about intellectual property.
Once a year, have your intellectual property counsel give a company-wide meeting about intellectual property. Use these meetings to educate employees about the value of IP and what they can do to contribute to this value. There usually is a wide range of sophistication about IP among employees. However, these three questions come up again and again:
“Is my invention patentable?” Employees wrongly presume that certain inventions, such as those involving algorithms, are not patentable. They should know that almost anything is patentable.
"Isn't my idea obvious?” No. What a scientist thinks is obvious is not the same as what the Patent Office thinks is obvious.
“What should I do if I have an idea?” This will depend on company procedure. However, a good process includes: (1) Drafting an invention disclosure form and (2) providing it to the head of the employee’s technology area.
Provide every employee and new hire an invention disclosure form.
As a part of new employee orientation, provide an invention disclosure form in their employee packet and make sure they know it’s there. This eliminates one more hurdle for employees when they have a new idea – They can’t say, “Where do I get an invention disclosure form?”.
Put up patent plaques.
Whenever the company gets a new patent, post a patent plaque in a public area. This is a visible and aesthetic reminder that the company takes IP seriously. You can buy patent plaques online in many different designs. There are many vendors, but I frequently use patentawards.com.
Put up signs around the company explaining company IP policy.
Before your company gets its first patent, you can post signs to raise awareness of the importance of IP. Many companies post signs announcing their mission statement or quality policy. Signs on the company’s IP policy are at least as important, and are more likely to result in concrete action.
2. Provide Incentives
Once employees are made aware of the importance of IP, they need to be motivated to document their inventions. Let’s face it, writing an invention disclosure can seem like a time consuming distraction. Incentives encourage employees to take action.
Recognize inventors publicly.
When patent applications are filed or patents are granted on employee inventions, recognize the employees at a public event. Patent plaques, or better yet, cash awards, make the company’s appreciation tangible.
Give a $100 reward for each invention disclosure.
You’re probably thinking that this will generate a lot of worthless inventions. It certainly will generate some. But if you receive nine useless disclosures for every valuable one, is this a waste of $1000?
Include innovation as part of employee performance reviews.
Employees will keep inventions in mind if they know that inventiveness is a criterion by which they will be evaluated during performance reviews.
3. Actively investigate new developments
Awareness and incentives, alone, will not be enough to identify and act on all the valuable inventions your employees are creating. One or more people must be tasked with beating the bushes to find these inventions, prioritize them, and take action. This responsibility typically falls on company IP counsel or, if there is none, the Chief Scientific Officer.
Establish a Patent Committee.
The job of the Patent Committee is to oversee the company’s IP program. The Patent Committee should at least include the CEO, the Chief Scientific Officer, heads of engineering groups, and internal or external IP counsel. The Patent Committee should meet monthly or every two months. The patent committee is useful for managing existing inventions. However, it typically is not as effective for generating and identifying new inventions. For that, someone has to nose around the company.
Attend meetings of the research teams.
Employees talk about what they are doing at meetings of the research teams. This is where your IP counsel can identify new inventions unrecognized by others and bring them up for consideration. And, the mere presence of IP counsel at these meetings emphasizes the importance of IP to the company.
Have one-on-one sessions with heads of technology groups.
The heads of the technology groups know what is going on in their areas. IP counsel should periodically sit down with each of them and find out what new technologies are being developed by the groups. Better to go to them than wait for them to come to you.
Conduct brainstorming sessions.
Brainstorming sessions can be an effective way to generate new inventions. What technical problems does the company face now and what are possible solutions? Where will the market be in five to ten years? Where could the company’s technology be useful outside its current market? The ideas that come out of these sessions can be the subject of prophetic patent applications.
If you promote awareness, provide incentives and actively investigate, your company will develop a strong culture of innovation that will generate much valuable intellectual property.