How to avoid legal pitfalls in an open innovation process

How to avoid legal pitfalls in an open innovation process

Open innovation offers a range of new opportunities for companies that want to benefit from external expertise. Explicitness is of vital importance in a world where innovation is largely regulated by patents and intellectual property rights. OpenUp asked four experts to share their best tips on how to avoid legal pitfalls when working with open innovation.

Before starting an open innovation process the most important thing is to pinpoint what you ask for, why you do it, who you ask and what incentives you have to offer. To be explicit about this do not only benefit the result but also the relationship with potential participants and makes it easier to ensure the legal rights of the ideas and results that are developed during the process.

– Be explicit about the ground rules. The participants deserve to know the conditions in advance and have the opportunity to plan their participation there after”, says Per Lidman at Setterwalls.

To take part of and together with others develop new, innovative ideas is one of the biggest benefits of open innovation. But even though the innovation process is said to be open, this does not always imply that the result is free for anyone to use. Intangible assets are something that occurs continuously during development and it is therefore important to have a strategy for taking care of it.

– If you decide that it is okay for everyone to use the ideas and results that come out of the process, you need to make sure that no one else outside the process is able to lock in what has been created by IP protection. Otherwise you risk your own opportunity to use what has been created”, says Cecilia Svantesson at Awapatent

How does it add value
To choose whether or not to work with open innovation is not the same as choosing between working with patents or not. Instead it’s about deciding if the potential value of open innovation outweighs the risk. For example, as a company you have to ask yourself if external expertise is important in order to succeed with future innovations and in what degree you’re willing to take the risk.

– Use your intellectual property actively to open up your company, and not to build walls around it”, advises Henrik Aurell at Zacco.

Inform internally
Another equally important aspect is to internally inform why you as a company are working with open innovation and how you want your employees to behave in open environments so that the company will gain from the process.

Most people are assigned to an employment contract that contains rules for how an employee may act with “secret” information. For businesses, it is therefor important to discuss whether there is a risk that the contracts are restraining the innovation potential, and how it affects the corporate development.

The digitization of society and the development of social networks and platforms have made it easy to share and access information. But it can also create anxiety regarding rights.

– Open innovation is not the same as free innovation, but you should carefully think twice about what information you share. Before leaving detailed information (know-how) you should consider signing a non-disclosure agreement with the reciever”, says David Berggren, MAQS Law Firm.

Share without giving away

As an inventor or entrepreneur, it is often up to yourself how you want to handle “secret” information. However, it is important to understand how you can share your knowledge and ideas without giving them away.

– We’ve probably only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of which opportunities and risks open innovation brings. Open innovation itself also requires an openness and collaboration on how to best set up a framework that does not restrain the pace of innovation”, says Johan Mårtensson, project manager at OpenUp.