Features

Moving invention from serendipity to dependability

19 November 2018

Stephen Potter of Iprova, explores the past, present & future, as he captures the views of experts on data driven invention.

The last frontier of invention – moving from magic to dependable

All too often, the popular view of invention is that it is the result of an inventor’s Eureka moment, a light-bulb turning on, or some kind of magic that happens in a research lab. However, speakers at the Data-Driven Invention Forum agreed that the digital age is increasingly moving invention from magic to science and changing it from an unpredictable exercise to one that can now be made dependable.

Keynote speaker Sir Hossein Yassaie demystified the crystal ball of innovation by defining its core three input components as consumer and societal habits and trends, technology trends and disruptions and finally industry and business structural trends. Once these input ingredients come together with specific and proactive attention to the networked nature of modern human society, data-driven trends, diversity of knowledge in tech and science and inherent agility of the modern environment then inventions become inevitable rather than magical.

With the right approach businesses can create new products and services which consumers will be keen to adopt due to their positive impact on their life, health or the environment. However, the problem lies in finding these ingredients ahead of anybody else and being the first to exploit them. Just where do you start the search?


Significant innovations will be multi-disciplinary

As the former CEO of Imagination Technologies and with the added perspective of an engineer and tech investor, Sir Hossein, is well positioned to share his view on where to find the ingredients for innovation. With the quickly changing technology landscape around us, the next big thing is unlikely to be found in the existing domain of a business. Instead, significant innovations will be multi-disciplinary arising from intersections between physical, digital and biological developments. To benefit from those intersections Sir Hossein defined structured access to a diversity of information, ranging from customer needs, technological and scientific trends and realities of the business environment as essential for success.

However, access to such knowledge, is where Bill Fischer, Professor for Innovation Management at the IMD sees the major stumbling block for today’s inventors. With blurring industry boundaries and unfamiliar players entering traditional domains, areas of expertise are no longer as clearly defined as they once were. In fact, insisting to define and focus on a core competency can turn an organisation’s strength into its biggest weakness. Bill Fischer illustrated this with the example of the shipping industry. Historically, the industry has progressed from the rather adventurous journeys of sailing boats to the technically advanced, large container and bulk carriers we know today. But what comes next? Could shipping (at least in part) be replaced by 3D printing, a quickly emerging technology that can provide goods where and when they are needed? And, how can any organization be prepared to be attentive to technological surprises so far from their familiar knowledge domains?


Invention is getting more difficult for human-centric approaches

Tackling the impact that unfamiliar and previously unforeseen technologies could have on an organisation’s need to innovate is made more difficult by what Professor Fischer describes as the burden of knowledge. As the breadth of knowledge required for innovation increases, many scientists go deeper in their traditional knowledge rather than wider into new fields, at exactly the time that a wide-angle view is needed to mine new or overlapping domains. This results in additional costs to overcome organizational complexities and the need to access new knowledge domains and new conversational partners, and this, in turn, inevitably lengthens the time to invent.

In fact, any form of human-centric invention is severely limited in its ability to compete on the breadth and speed of discovery that is needed to keep up with the ever-changing landscape around us. Instead, the last frontier of invention is digital. In Bill Fischer’s view, only a data-driven invention approach can master the complexity of extracting relevant information from a potentially endless remit of domains at a speed that, in order to be fully competitive, cannot be achieved by humans alone. Furthermore, invention cannot be considered a ‘strategic’ asset if it cannot be relied upon to address the growing complexity of today’s competitive arenas.


The future of IP strategy is consumer-driven

In a time where consumer preferences define industries rather than traditional assets, succeeding business models focus on improving the customer experience instead of the underlying asset itself. Bart Verlinden, Former VP of R&D at Markem Imaje even raised the question whether customer-centric IP generation should in future be owned by a strategic marketing function rather than an R&D function. This would mean a shift in focus from technology developments to market and consumer trends. He shared his vision of a future IP strategy that distances itself from the initial break-through technology. Using partners to cover adjacent technology developments, the corporate IP strategy could lie in pursuing business applications around the core technology which in turn strengthens the original IP. This would also drive an IP portfolio which is less foreseeable by the competition and can potentially open up completely new business models which can be of much higher value to the organisation than the original technology itself.


Is data-driven invention driving new business opportunities – what do the users think?

As part of the Data-Driven Invention Forum, some of Iprova’s customers shared their insight and best practice during a customer panel that included Maaike van Velzen, Head of IP Portfolio Management at Philips, Pascal Scaramuzzino, Global Technology Manager at DuPont as well as other customers from the US and Japan. All customer representatives stressed the fact that a data-driven invention approach helped them to generate disruptive inventions rather than incremental ones, and that leveraging a vast pool of data allowed them to overcome the limitations of human knowledge and speed in areas that augment their own R&D efforts.

Philips, as well as creating inventions in defined areas, also noticed some positive side effects such as inspiring their internal invention team, stimulating out-of-the box thinking and opening up adjacent fields which they hadn’t considered before.


Where will data-driven invention take us?

Speakers of the day agreed on the significant impact AI-driven technology has on the invention of products and services that will shape the future. With the on-going progress in the machine learning domain, the technology and its outputs will continue to improve to provide even greater speed and agility in the invention process. As for the mystery of invention – it is fair to say it is being replaced by science. With that comes dependability and, when paired with open-mindedness, the ability to transform business models in a way that allows organisations to compete in areas they didn’t see coming.


The views expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee and may not reflect the views of 4iP Council or its members. The purpose of this feature area is to reflect thinking on the topic of intellectual property and enable open discussion.