Corporate Managers: Are You Failing to Obtain Maximum Value from Your Energy Savings and Green Innovations by Ignoring Patent Issues?

I believe these problems result from structural impediments existing at many companies. For example, as a senior in-house IP counsel at a large consumer and wood products manufacturer, I found that few opportunities existed for me to learn about innovations occurring outside of the confines of the R&D department. Indeed, patentable innovations were considered to be the province of the “real scientists” who resided in the corporate R&D facilities. Consequently, non-R&D people were generally not considered to be “inventors,” and R&D personnel were almost exclusively granted corporate patent resources. In short, due to the siloed nature of the company, there was virtually no way for me to capture and protect innovations developed outside of the officially- recognized channels.

Now that I am an IP Business Strategist and Consultant, a leading provider of IP strategy and consulting services, I have the opportunity to work outside of a siloed corporate environment. This allows me to introduce corporate managers to the concept that protectable innovations can come from anywhere in an organization.

For example, if, like UPS, your company developed a method to save 3 million gallons of fuel a year and to cut carbon dioxide emissions by close to 69 million pounds, shouldn’t your company strive to protect that innovation regardless of whether it was developed by the “real scientists” in your R&D division? I do not know if UPS has tried to patent this valuable “no left turns” innovation (although they may have, because they are a prolific filer of patent applications). However, I do know that if they do not obtain a patent on this innovation, Federal Express or any other company will be able to use this method to save on energy costs and cut its carbon emissions without having to make the same investment in innovation that UPS did.

I am guessing that this substantial innovation by UPS did not result from a large R&D project where “real scientists” worked in a R&D silo after being directed to come up with an invention to save gas. Rather, I expect that someone on the UPS logistics team was trying to make a left hand turn one day and thought “I would save lots of gas if I didn’t have to sit at this light so long” and he or she brought the idea to the team for consideration, with the idea growing from there. Alternatively, the idea could have emanated from one or more UPS drivers who noted how much time and gas was wasted when they made left turns, and that idea made its way to the logistics team for consideration.

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