Corporate reflexes – Punching your loved one in the face may not be the best start
Companies can have innate reflexes. This is a given if you believe in the corporate metaphor where we define at the company as an organism. Basically reflexes are a good thing, developed through thousands of years of evolution however in a corporate context they still need some tuning to become helpful. To punch your loved one in the face when being woken up, may not be the best start of a budding relationship. Here our reflexes have evolved to change our instincts or at least soften them to help us adapt and do what is beneficial for us. The same adaptation and development is necessary with corporate reflexes.
Let’s look at the Dragon’s den question as an example: ”Have you patented this?”
The reformer Martin Luther liked honesty, diligence and other virtues related to work. His motto was “hard work pays off”. Many of the leading countries of the industrial revolution and other revolutions that followed originate from a Luthrean heritage and traditions.
Ideas can create an advantage. Exclusivity to ideas can create an even greater advantages for the individual. Exclusivity to many individuals create advantages to the society where they live. In short the patent system grants exclusivity to the individual for a limited time as a benefit to the society. Evolution has, however, created a society where the value of systems, ways of organizing, work processes and smart segmentation is higher valued than that of the individual novel technical feature that may be patented.
Back to the The Dragon’s den question above – it is a fossil. At least as it is often asked in the wrong context. The right questions should be whether your business model is built on open and closed competitive advantages. And in what way does openness drive new competitive advantages? The closure of technology through exclusive arrangements may be the largest obstacle for launching something something new, as customers do not want be boxed in and told. But how can we profit from opening up a technology which may have required considerable investments? The simple answer is that we want to supply something on top of this open technology, potentially some kind of added value. In this case it may be that we would like to sell this solution on an exclusive basis as our original openness created several competing applications where only one is ours – resulting in a, hopefully, better selling product.
By having our strategy ready for open or closed we can enter the innovation law tool box with all the different beautiful shiny tools for trade secrets, patents, bilateral or multilateral agreements, copyrights, trademarks etc. The consultant you decide to work with, should be selected because of their ability to ask the right questions and not for merely the legal knowledge. The reason for this is that the legal framework is not designed for commercial success. Legal actions must address and prioritise recommendations and actions depending on the maturity of the company, its capabilities and capacity.
The key is to know what to control. To know what to control implies knowledge of what should be open or closed. Competitive advantages need to be assessed from this perspective. It may be logical to attempt to use a toolbox from innovation law to promote closure. Actually openness may also be promoted by innovation law tools that are used to protect. It is all a matter of context.
So let’s be honest, reflexes are good for us, but we also have to be aware of how to control those that still need some fine tuning. So in the case of the Dragon’s den question – let’s agree there is more to a patent than it’s exclusivity.