Innovation Espionage

Intellectual property becomes more important in the innovation-driven era and becomes critical as companies invest more resources in new product or service development, either human effort and time as well as money. Handling intellectual property in terms of patents should be part of the innovation process for earning future value. But intellectual property is vulnerable during several stages of the new product’s development .

Take for example the recent news concerning industrial espionage at Renault (January 8, 2011) on new batteries and engine technologies for electric cars. Although it is said nothing critical has been stolen, French intelligence is investigating an industrial espionage case that can involve Renault employees (senior managers!!) and can also point to Chinese car companies, although they have denied it.

In Latin America, corruption has taken part in our politics and culture and we are more sensible to this kind of espionage. The fact that Chinese companies are being considered as possible perpetuators made me remember December’s news where two Chinese entrepreneurs from Foshan Meijiao Trading tried to bribe PEMEX, the Mexican oil company for preferences in polyethylene sales. It is not a case of stealing intellectual property, but it talks about our shameful world-wide fame on corruption and the way global illegal acts can affect processes.

Here are some pointers on taking care of your intellectual property:

Provide sensible information only to those that need it. Sharepoints, Open Innovation platforms (either internal or external) and all types of information technologies allow collaboration for idea generation and team integration, which is in fact needed for the innovation process. But beware on who is accessing the information, maybe you will need to restrict authorization at different stages.

Select your alpha and beta testers wisely and have means to preserve secrecy.

At initial stages of product development and prototyping, use different suppliers, so that no one big supplier knows the global structure of your product.

Keep prototypes in-house. Heard about Gray Powell? He is an Apple Software Engineer who lost a next-generation iPhone prototype at a bar stool of a German Restaurant in California, last April. His last Facebook post using the prototype was "I underestimated how good German beer is." The prototype ended up in Gizmodo, an online gadget reviewer.

If you are outsourcing design ideas or other new product development services, be sure the firms manages information appropriately.

If leaks occur, investigate and punish them, set the example. According to GIZMO (the sameones that got the iPhone prototype) it is said Apple has special teams that call themselves The Worldwide Loyalty Team that prevent or detect leaks.

Invest in protecting, you have more to lose.

Renault …call Inspector Jacques Clouseau (The Pink Panther) and get the innovation thiefs… here in Mexico sadly we left the PEMEX bribers get away.

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