On IP and secrecy Management for Innovation : the relevance of intellectual property rights to design-led start-up businesses
In their book, ‘The Smart Entrepreneur’, Clarysse and Kiefer claim that ‘Patents are particularly important when your business is not close to market, because the exclusivity afforded by a solid patent can buy you some time by preventing competitors from encroaching on your idea while you develop applications.’ (p.127) The UK Design Council on the other hand suggests to ‘Approach patenting with caution. Multinational cover is expensive and premature filing can do more harm than good’ (www.designcouncil.org.uk). Clarysse and Kiefer admit that ‘…a patent suit can cost $10-15 million and drag on for several years’ (p.93). This beckons the question what is the best IP strategy for a design-led start-up. Clarysse, Kiefer also explain how the lack of complimentary assets can hinder an entrepreneur’s market entry, and how “bottlenecks” in the value chain can be by-passed through focusing on niche markets (Clarysse, Kiefer, 2011, p.72ff). Here Clarysse, Kiefer expand on Teece’s understanding of complimentary assets, which are thought of as the “additional resources and capabilities needed to bring a technology product to market” (Clarysse / Kiefer, 2011, p.80). Back in 1986 Teece analysed how these assets can increase a company’s chance to succeed in the industry. David Teece has further defined appropriability as “the environmental factors… that govern an innovator’s ability to capture the profits generated by an innovation.” (Teece, 1986, p.287) He refers to IP as one of the most important factors in relation to appropriability. In search for an answer to the question whether or not a patent constitutes an effective means for start-ups to overcome competition, this paper will show a range of case studies of award winning British designs including the SEA Interface, a patent-pending platform technology for building pressure-sensitive touch interfaces, Cupris, a smartphone-enabled clinical device that transmits data between patients and healthcare practitioners, Yossarian Lives, a novel metaphor-based database search engine, and Arctica, a highly sustainable ventilation system. The inventors of these technologies will be interviewed in relation to their IP strategy, and in relation to their personal views on the international patenting system. The comparative study of semistructured qualitiative interviews will help identify the best approach to IP protection for design entrepreneurs whose funds are limited. Through reconciling the seemingly opposed views expressed by the Design Council Design Council on the one hand, and Clarysse and Kiefer on the other, this paper will discuss how designers can optimize the form and timing for IP protection for their start-up businesses. The author has previously received a business development award from NESTA (The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), and was subsequently involved in the Design London business incubator scheme, which was the birthplace of some of the ventures listed above. He is now studying for PhD at the Department for Service Design at the Royal College of Art in London, UK.