Advanced manufacturing companies increasingly implement “Intellectual Property Plus,” an expanded view of IP assets and risks. Through this lens, companies incorporate customer expectations and preferences in new product development, on the one hand, and navigate the potential regulatory snares of mining customer data, on the other hand. While integrating the “customers’ voices,” companies should protect their legal interests, through IP and contracts, and understand legal restrictions on data use.

Customer-focused innovators position themselves for future success, according to experts. For example, customer-focused innovation is one of the MPI Group’s six critical facets of Next-Generation Manufacturing. And market leaders, like Nike and North Face, place “the customer” at the heart of product creation. But what’s involved in getting customer-focused innovation right?

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

Effective innovation may require the next-generation manufacturer to first protect its IP, lest a competitor copycat new products or designs. Some steps that a company can take include:

  • Foster intelligent innovation
  • Legally protect your innovations
  • Proactively review the form of protection

Crafting Effective Technology Agreements

Technology agreements are another integral part of customer-focused innovation. Accordingly, they must be analyzed and drafted with great care to safeguard a company’s interests and simultaneously provide value to all participants. Simple technology agreements have their place, but many transactions call for sophisticated technology agreements. Agreements may need to address a variety of issues, like the structure of a joint coordinating team, the expected time commitment, the distribution of costs/compensation, the expected deliverables and timing, any reviews or approvals, regulatory compliance, exclusivity of the relationship, permitted use of third-party services, and the future supply relationship.

Using Big Data Legally

Big Data plays a significant role in business innovation. Big Data offers manufacturers unparalleled insight into what their customers want in the products they buy, how they use them, and when they need them. Despite this unprecedented availability of information, manufacturers must recognize that just because they can extract certain insights does not mean they are legally entitled to use or collect the results.

Patrick Wolfe of UCL explains, “It’s the wild west right now. People who are clever and driven will twist and turn and use every tool to get sense out of these data sets, and that’s cool. But we’re flying a little bit blind at the moment.” This is because data mining and information markets are quickly outpacing the development of applicable laws and regulations. Nevertheless, laws already exist to govern the rights to access certain data and how a manufacturer can use such data.

For more information on how a manufacturer can seek intellectual property protection, utilize the right technology and supplier agreements, and effectively leverage Big Data, please see our full Industry Today article, which has many tips and examples.