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Invention Harvest “Rights” – How to Have a Fruitful Harvest

Posted by Justin Schwechter | May 14, 2024 | 0 Comments

As we discussed in our last article, invention harvests can greatly help any venture identify the ideas and innovations that are worth securing as intellectual property (IP) rights. If you decide that holding these harvests is right for you and your team, you may wonder, “What should I do?” or “How can I ensure that this exercise will be worthwhile and/or successful?”

In this article, we will cover tried and true practices for hosting a successful invention harvest.

1. Set Priorities

Priorities should be set for all team members—including any facilitators. If there is no defined objective, ideas may flow all over without actually making headway on the problem at hand. That is not to say general harvests are bad; however, there needs to be some definition given to the scope of the problem to which the generated ideas are directed.

At the same time, the objective should not be so well defined that creativity is stifled. After all, the purpose of an invention harvest is to allow employees to explore creative solutions to a problem. Once too many guidelines are set, team members may reject their own ideas before they reach the light of day – some of which may be good enough to change the guidelines entirely.

2. Support the Harvest

It is easy for a company to begin invention harvesting with a plan to support the time and monetary resources necessary. It is much more difficult to continue this support months or years down the line if the results are not immediate.

Invention and innovation are ongoing processes and, as such, need continued support.

Additionally, manpower should not be provided during the initial stages of an invention harvest if that same amount of manpower cannot be offered in later stages. The amount of people that can be devoted to an invention harvest should be discussed and decided upfront, and then, if at all possible, maintained throughout the process. This applies to both team members and facilitators. That being said, increases in manpower would be an increase in support, which would likely be welcome and improve the results of the harvest.

3. Train Facilitators

Good facilitators are crucial to having a good invention harvest. As such, the company must be willing to invest resources into training these facilitators. It is not enough to take an individual who has the right characteristics, such as being engaging or inquisitive, and expect them to immediately be a great facilitator. There are learned strategies that will help a facilitator keep team members on the correct path and continuously think in new ways about a problem to come up with different, creative solutions.

4. Keep the Team Informed

Team members should be kept informed through all stages of the process. This includes the objective (which we all know may change) and any loose guidelines such as deadlines and budgets.

Team members should also be made educated about basic IP rights strategies. Not everyone is aware of the one-year bar on filing for a patent after public disclosure. Unaware team members may inadvertently start this clock, for example, by sharing information about the harvest with an outside party, which could prove detrimental to the company.

The same goes for trade secrets. For example, perhaps an invention that results from a harvest is, for some reason, not patentable. The principles behind the invention could still be useful as a trade secret, but only if no team member has already publicized the information in some manner. If a team member is unaware of what constitutes a trade secret or grants trade secret protection, they may accidentally let loose some or all of the protected information.

5. Determine Harvest Frequency

The frequency with which to hold these meetings depends on the goals of the harvest; this is one way in which innovation harvests and invention harvests might differ.

For innovation harvesting, the frequency may be tied to time or milestones.

Time-based innovation harvests allow employees to develop a routine where they expect the harvest to occur at a specified time increment and mentally prepare for it. Milestone-based innovation harvests may be more useful to the company, as time is not wasted when new objectives have not yet been decided. However, they have the potential pitfall of coming as a surprise to the team members, so participants will not be fully prepared.

Invention harvests, on the other hand, should almost always be based upon time because of all the time-based deadlines in patent law.

Tying invention harvests to milestones may prevent inventors from disclosing inventions unrelated to the objective at hand.

There is some discord about how frequently to hold an invention harvest, with some experts saying once a year is a good frequency. However, this runs into the same potential problem discussed above concerning the one-year disclosure bar. A better method may be to hold an invention harvest every six months, if not more frequently. It is a balancing act—too many harvests will spend a lot of resources while likely generating low results because not enough time has lapsed between harvests for new inventive ideas to develop.

6. Stimulate Creativity

Team members should be engaged in a way that will stimulate their creativity and receptiveness to the harvesting process. Strict structure or “round table meetings” may stifle creativity. Something as simple as providing food and drinks can create a more relaxed atmosphere, causing team members to be more expressive about their ideas. The facilitator may also add fun to the process by making the harvest more of an event than a discussion, through playing games or bringing out props—anything that might stimulate creativity.

7. Implement the Harvest Slowly

Do not rush to implement the harvest. The frequency of meetings may be established from the onset, but the goals laid out in these initial meetings should not be massive objectives intended to propel the company into the future.

Small objectives that can be accomplished in a short time frame will help build team morale.

This means that future, more difficult objectives are built on a mountain of prior success, so the team has the confidence needed to remain optimistic in the face of adversity. Think of the harvest as an accelerative process, not one of linear velocity.

8. Constantly Engage the Team

Even if the harvests only take place periodically, team members should be engaged constantly. Harvesting does not need to be isolated to harvest meetings—and, in fact, doing this may be detrimental as team members begin to associate their creativity with a date on the calendar. Inventors should be constantly thinking about their goals and reminded that their ideas have merit. Something as simple as the facilitator checking in between harvests can keep these thought processes flourishing, yielding more, and better, ideas.

9. Provide Feedback

Every idea should come with some form of feedback—good or bad. This feedback, however, needs to be specific and constructive. If the idea is not usable, explain to the team member why and help guide them in the correct direction. Perhaps the idea has merit for future applications—explaining this to the team member will help prevent them from becoming downtrodden that their ideas are not worthwhile. Explaining what components of their idea are good, even if not applicable to the objective on hand, may help them come up with similar ideas in the future because they will have an idea about what the company is looking for.

In our next article in this series, we will discuss what not to do in an invention harvest.

How Gallium Law Can Help

The practitioners of Gallium Law are experts in the field of intellectual property and have conducted many invention harvests. If you or your team would like to have an invention harvest and would like our team to help, please fill out this online form or call us at 651-256-9480 to schedule a consultation.

*The information in this article is not legal advice and should not be relied on. The content of this article is for informational purposes only and is meant as a starting point in your search for answers to your legal questions.

About the Author

Justin Schwechter

Justin Schwechter is a patent agent at Gallium Law. He is a registered U.S. patent agent. Before joining the Gallium Law team, Justin interned with Dorsey & Whitney LLP...

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