Unfortunately, in many companies, the team responsible for developing and implementing an energy savings innovation such as UPS’s might not know that the company even had a patent attorney. Such a valuable innovation would therefore be brought on-line without first considering whether patent rights should be investigated. In this type of environment, I have typically found that the opportunity to obtain exclusive rights on a valuable innovation can be lost forever because the patent application is not filed by the government deadline. When this happens, the innovation can be used freely by a competitor, which results in a net competitive loss to the innovator. (This net loss occurs because the competitor did not have to make the same investment to obtain the benefit of the innovation.)
In this day of intense corporate efforts to obtain energy savings and green innovations, I strongly believe that it is more important than ever for companies to educate employees at all levels about how patents can help provide their company with an advantage over competitors. It is therefore necessary for C-level management to develop and nurture what I call an “IP infrastructure” within the corporation. When personnel outside of the R&D and legal divisions understand and appreciate the need to bring potentially patentable innovations to the attention of management, your company will achieve more success in maximizing corporate asset value. Put another way, the US Patent Office does not ask if a “real scientist” developed the idea before granting a patent on an invention such as UPS’s, and neither should your company’s management.
I think we are on our way to getting there because, as demonstrated by surveys showing the growing importance of IP management at the C-level, corporate management is becoming more cognizant of the need for IP to be managed at the business level. However, in order for your company’s executives to successfully execute on their plans to maximized the value from your organization’s IP assets, it will be imperative for them to make sure that each and every employee in your company recognizes the value of IP generally, and patents specifically, to the creation of corporate value and profits.