IP Management – What and Why

Whether you use the 4-step IP management process just described or not, there are 4 kinds of intellectual property that you can produce and manage.  In other words, there are 4 types of knowledge about any product, service, strategy, or industry.

  1. Knowledge of what stakeholders value
  2. Knowledge of the key issues you face
  3. Knowledge of solutions to individual issues
  4. Knowledge of complete product, service, or strategy concepts

You can, and should, formally manage EACH type of intellectual property.  Here’s why …

What Stakeholders Value – If you know more than your competitors about what stakeholders value, you can create value-driven solutions that competitors can’t.

Key Issues – If you know where your products lag the most compared to competitors, you can focus on creating solutions that will provide big value gains.  If you know the issues the entire industry faces, you can create value-based innovation.

Solutions to Individual Issues – If you create multiple solutions to individual challenges or issues, you build a library or inventory of building blocks that can be used to build (or inspire) future product concepts.

Product Concepts – If you build multiple iterations of product concepts, focusing each new iteration on improving the areas where value lags the most, you grow product value quickly.  If you test multiple product concepts with consumers, you build a much greater understanding of stakeholder value and key issues.

IP Management Step 4: Deploying the Best Solutions

OK, I admit that I made this last step sound easier than it really is.  It is NOT as simple as merely selecting some idea and then deploying it.  You actually will be selecting one or more ideas, refining them, validating them with real customers, refining them some more, validation them again, refining them some more – and so on.

First, selecting the product concepts to start with is fairly simple.  Just go back to the set of value drivers and key issues that you established in steps 1 and 2 – and score each product concept – as objectively as you can.  Unless one far outscores all of the rest, select the top 2 to 3 for further exploration.

Second, review the details of each product’s score.  Find the individual value drivers or issues where each one scored lowest – and the features that are causing the low scores.  Then focus some ideation and design activity on improving those features.  Do at least three iterations of improvement.

Third, find the value drives or issues where each one scored highest – and the features causing the high scores.  Then focus your brainstorming and design activity on how to migrate those features to the other product concepts.

Fourth, when you are confident that you have improved the product concepts about as much as you can, start testing them with customers.  Ask customers to either use the product (if  you have a functional prototype) or simulate use.

  • Have them try routine everyday use scenarios – and then get their feedback.
  • Ask them to score the product concept according to the value drivers and issues you’ve already scored.

In other words, find out whether you were thinking like your customers during your design work.

Take that feedback and once again focus your ideation and design activity on the features that need the most improvement – and on proliferating the features that are clearly exceptional.  After at least three cycles, you should be set with a clear launchable design that you can complete and take to market.

Note:  throughout this process you will create (and should record) two types of intellectual property.

  1. New and better understanding of value drivers and issues.
  2. New and better (and sometimes patentable)  feature solutions for those drives and issues.

IP Management Step 3: Inventing Potential Solutions

This step comes third because it does little good to invent product solutions until you know 1) what drives value and 2) the major issues your product faces relative to producing value.  That focuses your ideation and intellectual property creation on that which can bring your stakeholders (and you) the most value.

The method that I have used that has been most effective is to:

  1. Brainstorm or ideate solutions to the issues you’ve identified.
  2. Use those as input to ideate multiple entire new product concepts.

Assemble a diverse group of 8 to 15 people from within your company (your design team, engineers, marketing people, industrial designers, graphic designers, operations people, service people, etc.).

Pick the top 12 to 15 issues to address.  Write a brainstorming question that asks the participants to create tangible solutions to the issue – as many as they can.  Don’t circulate the questions ahead of time.

Go off site.  Better to ideate in an environment without the daily interruptions.  You’ll need 2 to 3 days to do the project justice.

After an introductory presentation and discussion of the value drivers you discovered in step 1 and the issues you identified in step 2, you can start brainstorming.  I suggest using nominal group process (everyone privately writes or draws solutions, and then the facilitator leads a discussion of each person’s ideas one by one).  The discussion should be brief, fast paced, and follow traditional brainstorming rules.  I like posting the ideas on the wall (use Post-It Notes, 3-M Post-It easel pads, and 3-M Post-It correction tape).

You will create a lot more ideas for each issue than you can use.  Some will be clearly unworkable or even silly (if not, your brainstorming is too tightly controlled).  Some will be good ideas, but not right for the product you are designing – keep those for future use in other projects.  Some will be candidates for use in this project.

You may want to identify the ideas that the group feels are best.  I learned to do this by asking the participants to vote for their favorite ideas with colored sticky dots.  This method lets everyone see the group consensus and re-familiarize themselves with all of the ideas.

Finally, ask each participant to create their own complete product concept, using any of the ideas presented as well as any new ones they have.  For the best results, ask them to present their concepts.  Record video because they will say things about their concept that they don’t write down or draw.

Voila!  You now have multiple new product concepts that should reflect solutions that add value to the issues you wanted to address.  Cool!

Two parting thoughts.

  1. In this step you have created two different kinds of intellectual property – keep it, record it, and determine if it is worthy of patent protection.  The first type is answers to the individual issues that your face.  You should have LOTS of potential solutions that are not laughable.  The second type is complete product concepts.  In the next step, you’ll select the best to develop and deploy.  Keep, record, and evaluate the rest.  Just because they weren’t selected doesn’t mean they are not valuable.
  2. Someone is likely to suggest that your company can’t afford to send that many people off site for that long.  Here’s why that is false.  The value you create in your products sets the stage for corporate success – or failure.  Those busy people won’t have those busy jobs for long unless your company delivers valuable products.

Next:  Selecting and Deploying the Best Solutions