In today’s fast-moving market, investing in intellectual property protection is more important than ever.

A robust patent portfolio is vital for protecting your competitive advantage, and for raising funds through licensing or investment. However, it takes some careful thought and effort to develop an IP portfolio that will serve these commercial objectives.

One of the key challenges is encouraging a culture of innovation so that important developments are surfaced when they are made by your engineers and then are protected in the right way.

This article deals with some of the issues that need to be addressed when setting up a culture of encouraging innovation in your organisation.

Plan Your IP Strategy

Of course, everything you do should be governed by a considered IP strategy.  This post does not cover this topic in detail, but the basic pillars of a successful IP strategy will involve:

  • Considering your company’s commercial objectives
  • Projecting future technology trends
  • Deciding how to deal with third party rights
  • Risk management planning for IP disputes

Your IP strategy should also be reviewed regularly, but once a strategy has been put in place, the two main things to address are the process by which innovation is managed and the cultural incentives that are put in place.

Processes for Managing Innovation

A successful process deals efficiently with capturing innovations, assessing them, making considered protection decisions, and then managing the resultant IP portfolio.

It is a good idea to have an “invention disclosure form” (IDF) which contains carefully crafted questions which draw out the required information in enough detail for an invention to be assessed. You could build in a decision point in a product development cycle that asks engineers if a form should be considered.

When deciding on how much detail to have in the forms, there is a trade-off between making the process smooth for the engineer and obtaining the best quality patent.  Taking time to prepare a detailed description helps assessment of the innovation and sets a good foundation for a robust patent; but making the requirements too onerous will put people off submitting ideas.

Of course, if your patent attorney is a proactive partner, they will be more than happy to provide seminars and education to help raise awareness of the issues and to provide practical guidance to the engineering staff in these matters.  It is also important that the engineers experience a smooth process and that the decision-making is explained to them.

It is then advisable to have some kind of scoring mechanism for assessing an invention.  This might consider factors such as mapping to your products, mapping to competitor’s products, the ease of workarounds, the perceived innovative value, and the expected useful life of an invention.

  • In our experience, if an engineer is new to the patenting process, it takes usually a couple of iterations before they are comfortable with how things go.  It can be a learning experience the first time round, but after that, things tend to go a lot more smoothly, so we would recommend keeping an eye out for first-time inventors and giving them a little bit of extra support, compared to others.

Setting Culture

One of the main tensions to resolve is that engineers are busy.  Their main concern is how to design products and how to deal with customer requirements. Of course it is absurd to think that patenting should prevent products going out to customers, but on the other hand, a culture of continual firefighting means that value creation opportunities can be missed if actions are not taken in time.

Given that you have an established IP policy which relates to commercial objectives, the first task is to communicate those objectives to engineers, so they can understand the broader context behind the requirement to protect IP.  If they are being asked to do additional work or to carry out tasks that they see as a diversion to their main day job, then they need to understand the bigger picture and how patents are a strategic objective for your company.

Another thing to consider is allocating some credit to engineers for patenting, by giving them a specific time allowance in their job description for dealing with patents, or by having patent filings as a measurable career objective.

We would also recommend establishing some form of compensation scheme where financial rewards are given to inventors either for filing a patent, for having a patent granted, or both. Such a reward scheme can provide a very real, tangible recognition of the efforts that inventors put into the process.

Related to the above is the requirement to get management buy-in for your IP strategy.  It is easy for management to agree with the idea that IP is important and should be protected, but it is a different thing to persuade them to invest budget and time and to prioritise it.

Identify Barriers

It is also important to identify barriers to participation in the process. You should always recognise that the protection of IP is a sensitive subject, and your technical staff will bring with them their own perceptions and prejudices around IP and what should be done.  Their attitudes to innovation can therefore vary widely and you need to be sensitive to different perspectives to help you to understand why people behave the way they do and to resolve any difficulties that do arise.

Sometimes, certain technical groups may have prejudices against patents from ideological perspectives, or you may have teams who have misconceptions perhaps because they have come in from other companies and expect things to be done differently.  Or maybe there are certain teams who are avoiding engaging with the process because they perceive it to be too cumbersome.  It is important to spot these issues and spend time to listen to the relevant people’s concerns and think from a supportive point of view how you can help them be aligned with the company’s objectives.

Finally, it is important to explain the decision-making to inventors so that they are comfortable that proper decisions have been made with respect to the inventions they have worked towards.


In conclusion, these “softer aspects” of culture are in practice one of the most important aspects to get right to ensure the best results for your IP protection.  In all of this, communication is key – both with engineering staff and with management.

An engaged and motivated engineering workforce will help you realise the best value for your IP and it is vital to surface their innovations so that you can make the best decisions.