Intelligent Product Development Tip – Is Your R&D Department Re-Inventing The Wheel?

You could say that the world is just about starting to recover from an economic depression that didn’t spare any economy but it’s left a lot of organizational changes in it’s wake which are not likely to change any time soon. One of these several changes is the way in which businesses view innovation and R&D departments as major cost centers rather than the department which needs to be constantly funded without restrictions to come up with the “next big thing since sliced bread” for them. At the peak recession stages product development and innovation departments across several companies took a severe beating with cost cuts and a lot of their projects being kept on hold or even scrapped till things start looking up again. It’s a natural economic phenomenon with innovation, research and development. In boom times when everything is great, businesses applaud them for their role and encourage them to keep innovating. When things go downward, they are singled out as the department which is gobbling up cash reserves and management has them in their sights. Whether you refer to it as innovation, product development or research and development, it has been the cornerstone of success for most of great organizations and they know they can’t completely axe it if they are to have any chance of being anything other than follower (riding on others innovations). Yet, with all that’s happened during the economic meltdown, even when things have recovered, it’s evident that businesses will continue to keep a close eye on every dollar invested and hold every department more accountable for their actions.

When it comes to R&D or product innovation, that translates to continuing to build on a businesses IP and product portfolio in the most cost effective manner possible. It’s clear that there will be very no room for error and very little leeway with budgets. If a business is investing R&D funds towards innovation and invention, then they will assume you have covered all bases and ensuring you are truly working on IP that they can bank on and not simply chasing an idea which a rival has claims on already. It doesn’t pay to re-invent the wheel. As obvious a statement as it may seem, as a product development manager ensuring the intellectual property that you’re working to develop is not something a competitor or someone else has conquered is easier said than done. It’s a challenging stage of the process and perhaps one that can cause the most damage if not done thoroughly. Imagine if Intel Corp were to spend the next 10 years developing what their believed would be the fastest silicon based processor to hit the market till date while rival AMD has already come up with an alternate to silicon which would be light years ahead. It’s unlikely the management would bring out the champagne considering the time, money and effort they spent to come up with something which barely even qualifies for second place. Yet, this is a scenario that is highly probable. R&D can be so caught up in what they are doing and how it could change the future, they forget to look behind and study the competition. Patents have been the best indicators of what is going on in the industry and who those competitors are and needless to say, every product development and R&D person should be actively keeping a pulse on patents within their space. There is a mindset, albeit a gradually decreasing one, that patents are a “legal thing” which should be left to the IP lawyers and corporate office to deal with and in that mindset, it’s easy to miss out on just how much R&D can take from it if seen in the right perspective. It’s this right perspective that patent analysis software like Patent iNSIGHT Pro help R&D professionals and product development managers with.

To do all the groundwork and cover all bases before going head on into the development process, if one looks through a patent database and studies patents individually like paintings hanging on the walls of a museum, there is only so much one can gather from it. It’s when you are able to look at a group of patents within your domain, put together with all their relationships highlighted do you really get to see the complete picture and make sense of where your development work stands in the overall scheme of things. Backward citations help understand what the core innovations are and forward citations provide insights into how those core innovations have been applied in different areas of research. Patent analysis of technologies can help reveal where your R&D maybe crossing paths with someone else’s work and where there is a gap which your team may be able to fill and so much more. Most importantly patent analysis helps R&D to leverage patent data in a form that is relevant to them and not from the viewpoint of a legal professional. Who are the other people in the same innovation space? What are they working on? Are there any overlaps? What can I learn from others who have worked in this space? Where are the gaps for improving on existing patents? Who do I need to connect with to source a certain component? These are just a handful of questions that patents can answer before and during the R&D process given the right perspectives. It’s some of these answers that can prevent massive mistakes like ending up doing research on something which exists or moving in a direction which has a barrier that could have been avoided if R&D was better informed. It’s the right questions and being able to get them answered in time which are necessary to get things right the first time.

All said and done, innovation and product development is, and will continue to be, an essential part of moving forward in this world. It’s possible for business operations and R&D to meet halfway and continue moving ahead while working more intelligently and keeping costs in check. We just have to be better informed and ensure no one is re-inventing the wheel.