Last year some research was released into innovation and the sharing of ideas. The research revolved around the issue of whether to open up your patents or not. The consensus was that openess was a good thing, on the grounds that allowing other companies and individuals access to your intellectual property allowed them to develop related products that consequently grew the industry and made your own product more valuable to customers. In other words, a smaller chunk of a much larger pie is often more valuable than the full chunk of a much smaller pie, or as the authors more poetically put it, a rising tide lifts all boats.
Despite research such as this however, the norm remains that companies tend to hoard intellectual property. Even if they don’t make use of it themselves, it stops others from encroaching on their territory. Over the past few years we’ve seen a host of technology companies purchasing intellectual property, with competition seemingly fought out as much in court rooms as it is in the marketplace.
So how does GE fit into this picture? Well, they’ve taken a slightly different approach to things. They’ve decided to team up with the inventors community Quirky. Quirky brand themselves as a community where innovation and invention is crowdsourced. You can see a bit about their philosophy in the video below. When you’ve finished watching, I’ll explain a bit more about what GE have done with them that’s kinda cool.
GE has an awful lot of intellectual property. They were granted 1,652 patents last year according to a quick Google Patent search. Their problem is that few of those patents are actually being turned into products that help to justify the $4.6 billion they spent on R&D. That’s where Quirky come in.
GE have agreed to release a few hundred patents to the Quirky community. It’s hoping that the disparate talents within the community will be able to turn the intellectual property into commercialized ideas. Any subsequent revenues from these products will then be split three ways, between GE, the inventor and Quirky.
The initial move is just a pilot, with the hope that should it go well it will see GE providing the Quirky community with a few thousand patents with which they can work.
Of course, crowdsourcing innovation is not all that new. Sites such as Innocentive have been offering this kind of facility for years now, with some tremendous results. This is however the first time, to my knowledge, that such big chunks of intellectual property have been placed into the open with the express aim of turning it into new products.
When you consider that IBM have around 4 times as many patents granted each year as GE do, with the likes of Samsung not far behind, one has to hope that this kind of self-interested altruism becomes the norm for big companies looking to monetize the intellectual property that would otherwise be gathering dust. It seems a win for the company, a win for the many budding inventors out there, and certainly a win for society.