Who’s Mining the Shop? The Need to Mine for Inventions in Companies, Universities

“Who’s mining the shop?” This is a question that needs to be asked for every university, company, and organization capable of creating inventions. In my corporate and academic experience (am the former Corporate Patent Strategist at Kimberly-Clark Corp., and was a professor before that), numerous inventions never get the protection they deserve because nobody was there to coach the inventors, to recognize the potential for intellectual property, and to do the extra work required to develop a sound IP strategy for the work. Many inventors know almost nothing about intellectual property. Many don’t even recognize that what they have developed is an invention. This can be especially true in businesses when the invention is developed outside of a normal R&D department, such as a new business method or software tool. But even research scientists and professors may miss the patent potential of their work unless there is someone there to coach and guide them. Technology transfer offices are charged with this task in many universities, and legal departments or patent review boards have this duty in many companies, but both can miss huge opportunities unless there is someone who goes out to mine the organization for inventions. That involves reaching out to groups and individuals, educating them (often in presentations or group meetings) about intellectual property, being available for one-on-one discussions, asking questions, looking for signs of exciting developments, being an advocate and mentor, and constantly mining for IP gold.

One of the many exciting experiences I had at Kimberly-Clark came after recognizing that a particular remote mill had developed some clever solutions to a few problems they were facing. After further inquiries, I learned that the mill had some very bright engineers who were solving lots of problems in clever ways. I suggested that there may be some patent opportunities coming out of that mill, and arranged a trip to spend a couple days there giving presentations and doing interviews of team members to see what they might have. I found many exciting and potentially patentable advances from their work, and ended up working with them to generate nearly a dozen invention disclosures, several of which were filed as patents. This created a lot of excitement for the mill and helped them pay more attention to the IP potential of what they were doing.

As with that mill experience, part of successful mining involves helping people write up the initial invention disclosure. When people are very busy and writing disclosures doesn’t fit their job description, someone needs to be the assistant/mentor who basically writes it for them, taking away the pain of the IP process. It requires resources, but it can lead to substantial returns.

Look over your organization and consider what you could achieve by applying some additional resources to help generate IP through proactive mining. It’s something we can help you with at Innovationedge. Something I personally really enjoy doing. And I consider it an important step toward overcoming innovation fatigue in some organizations.

Who’s mining the shop? Great question.

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