June 27, 2011 -- Nanotechnology is a booming, fast-moving industry. It’s also very broad, encompassing innovation within a huge variety of sectors. Adequate protection of small tech innovation can be difficult to achieve.
Nanotechnologies promise immense benefits, but for these benefits to be realized, new or revamped products must reach consumers. Commercialization entails moving from research through technology development to volume production and sale.
For most nano players, the products of innovation -- intellectual assets -- are the most valuable result. These intellectual assets include traditional intellectual property rights -- patents, trademarks and designs -- as well as unregistered rights like copyright; trade secrets; contractual arrangements with clients, suppliers and staff; databases and customer lists. They also include the experience, knowledge, skills and ideas of people within the company -- the human capital -- that must be preserved for continued success.
Intellectual asset management (IAM) is a relatively new concept. It’s a philosophy for looking at a company’s intellectual assets to identify, unlock and derive value from them. It also encourages the company to think strategically about how it can use those assets for commercial benefit.
Patents are the most typical protection mechanism for nanotechnology and play a vital role in securing ideas and seeing them through to commercialization. However, many universities and institutions still operate under a publish or perish mentality. Being the first to publish isn’t the be all and end all. In fact, it can sometimes be simply the end; publishing without protection often means the idea loses commercial value.
Timing your protection for nanotechnology advances is vital. Of course, patents can be expensive, which is why a proper intellectual asset management strategy needs to begin at the conception stage of innovation, running in parallel to development all the way through to manufacturing and commercialization.
Having a strategy that shows where you are going and a plan to get there means that companies will be more capable of identifying when an idea is worthy of protection. It can also save you time in the patent filing process, therefore allowing publication (if that is one of the aims) much sooner, and with proper protection.
Link innovation to the business strategy
Take the following example: a company’s technology has been adopted worldwide. It now needs a strategically aligned international patenting program - a structure to identify future market opportunities and regular scoping and analysis of competitor activity. Intellectual Asset Management helps it to do all these things and more in a systematic way, establishing freedom to operate, mapping out future technology directions as well as identifying potential partners.
Each of these activities is linked to an overarching business strategy: the company understands its competitive landscape and can therefore identify opportunities faster than its competition. Its leaders also understand their own capacity and the resources that would be needed to see opportunities through from development to commercialization – at the same time viewing all these options through the lens of the company’s overall business strategy.
When things move quickly, it’s easy to lose sight of the ultimate aim. In nanotechnology, that aim is usually commercialization. Creating an intellectual asset management strategy that is closely aligned with the business strategy can therefore help streamline important decisions including the timing of patents and publishing, who to partner with and how to license.
Moving faster than the competition
Nanotechnology is a crowded space, with an ever-increasing number of companies innovating in this area. The number of inventions is also increasing, as nanotechnology becomes more integral to everyday life. With so many players conducting continuous research and development, ideas can quickly become obsolete, and niche areas can often be overlooked.
Smart companies will be monitoring competitor activity and looking at gaps to drive their innovation in the less populated small tech areas. A comprehensive intellectual asset management plan would incorporate regular competitor analysis, highlighting where the most activity sits and where activity is lagging. Laying the groundwork to identify opportunities and recognize when a particular idea is past its use-by date is a key feature of intellectual asset management.
Taking a 360 degree view
Taking a wide-lenses view of the innovation landscape not only gives companies a better idea of competitor activity, it can also open up hidden opportunities in licensing, partnerships and applications.
For companies developing nanotechnology, finding the right partner and identifying where investment dollars are being channelled can be extremely lucrative. Having an intellectual asset management strategy in place can make this process easier. Creating the right management and structure around innovation can make a company much more attractive to potential partners, who value a clear vision and intention for the technology. Proactive intellectual asset management can significantly enhance return on investment.
The multidisciplinary nature of nanotechnology also makes it more important than ever to spot potential applications for new inventions. For example, a polymer banknote technology has also been useful for producing solar cells. The company involved used continuous competitor analysis to scan the activity in solar cell development. They found that no one was using polymers and decided to fill the gap with a new solution based on a product used in a completely different industry. The polymer solar cell is less costly, flexible and easier to mount while having the same ability to transmit.
For companies developing nanotechnology, intellectual assets are the key ingredient for success. Without a management program in place, they won’t be getting the most out of them. It’s those assets -- that hidden value -- and the management and planning that fit around them, that can really highlight the commercial value of nanotechnology innovation.
Carla Cher holds BSEng Hons (elec), BSc (physics), MEng (electronics/microtechnology), MIPLaw, and MIEAust and is a patent and trademarks attorney with Watermark, Level 2, 302 Burwood Road, Hawthorn VIC 3122, Australia; ph.: 613 9819 1664; email firstname.lastname@example.org