Posted in: February, 2007
Given that research drives innovation products, it is imperative we introduce innovation in the research and development process. This article examines the various stages of research and development within a company and proposes a novel of cross industry research by tapping on distributed domain intelligence across companies and countries.
The conventional mode of concept creation and product design revolves around a technology team with skills focused on a certain core technology sector. “Core competence” is a double-edged sword. It is sensible to develop solutions around one’s technical competencies. However, rarely are all customer needs addressed by capabilities and solutions evolved from within a certain technology domain within a firm. A solution for a customer need typically demands skills from multiple industries, and possibly multiple technologies that could be spread across multiple geographies or countries.
The concept of a “company” or “firm” exists primarily in view of setting clear ownerships, liabilities and equitably distributing profits. However in an ideal world, not to mention that this ideal utopia could be fast approaching reality, “ownership” will lie around products and not necessarily “firms”. For example, Sony, Microsoft and IBM would jointly own and develop gaming machines, wherein Sony provides its domain experience in the hardware, Microsoft provides the graphics capabilities and IBM builds the online features.
Need definition stage
A core technology obviously has multiple applications in multiple industry verticals. However, not all applications are obvious and apparent to the marketer or the technical team of a firm. Unicita’s Invita software tool and analysis process identifies novel cross industry applications of a given core technology or the existing product line of a company.
For example, consider a semiconductor manufacturer ABC Company who manufactures an Indium Gallium Arsenide (InGaAs) semiconductor chip used for light detection, and sells receivers containing the InGaAs chips to fiber-optic customers in the telecommunications industry. Assume that the demand for fiber-optic telecommunication equipment has fallen and ABC Company is unable to find customers for its packaged InGaAs chips in the telecommunications industry. The marketers and designers of ABC Company have a strong understanding of the application of the InGaAs chip in the telecommunications industry, but are unaware of the possible applications of the InGaAs chip in the defense, automotive or medical industries. In the defense industry, InGaAs chips are used as sensors in the tail wings of fighter aircrafts. In the automotive industry, InGaAs chips are used in the communication system of high end and lightweight car s. In the medical industry, InGaAs chips are used in optical sensing of high throughput screening applications. There are many additional applications for the InGaAs material in other industries, for example use of InGaAs chips in historic material conservation, ice detection in aircraft wings, camouflage detection in warfare and semiconductor wafer inspection. It is unrealistic to expect a marketer or a designer at ABC Company to have knowledge of applications of a particular component or system for all industries. In the ideal case, when a designer needs to identify and design a component for a particular application, the designer itemizes all the component options that the designer is aware of that meet the application requirements, and thereafter selects the most appropriate component. Unicita’s Invita product and service itemizes and ranks all such component options.
Identification of suitable components and systems to meet design criteria and satisfaction of unmet application needs in the product design process is a resource constraint and time consuming activity for the product design team. Also, alteration or modification of components or systems of a product in a certain industry, allow the use of that application or product in another related or non-related industry to satisfy an entirely different application or need. Hence, designers, product managers and marketers continuously search for new components or systems for their application requirements, and also for multiple applications for their products.
In the conventional product design process, typically a scientist with domain expertise in a particular technology area designs a product addressing the unmet application need. However, the best component that meets the application might not necessarily reside in or evolve from the technology sector in which the scientist has expertise. Unicita’s Invita addresses and identifies components from the entire technology spectrum to meet the need of the optimum component or system for the new product.
Consider the downstream end of a design process, for example where a medical device firm DEF Company in the area of high throughput screening is looking for a component to determine loss in the intensity of light after the passage of the light through a liquid medium. The firm is looking for the ideal component for such a light detection application. The designers of DEF Company are probably aware of one or two components that meet the light detection application such as the use of an Indium Gallium semiconductor chip. However, the ideal solution could be any of the following components: InGaAs chips, Indium Gallium (InGa) chips, or Indium Phosphide (InP) semiconductor chips.
Let us take an example of the need for a pen that can be also be used as a hand warming device in a cold winter day. If our client, for example a pen manufacturer encounters such a customer need, their research and development team might not necessarily be well equipped to generate ideas, filter ideas, prototype and bring to production such a product which demands technology domain expertise in thermal devices and compact energy sources that can potentially be integrated into a pen. In this case, the client needs to look externally to design such a product. Invita scouts around the world and brings in the most competent and affordable expertise in thermal devices and compact energy sources.
Problem masking stage
Unicita uses a unique and patented “Problem masking” methodology to define the problem and for displaying the multiple solution sets for the R&D solution providers. Problem masking ensures that the R&D solution providers are not revealed about the possible intellectual property the problem and its potential solutions could command. In the case of the above example on a pen being used as a hand warmer, the external expert skilled in the art of compact energy sources will not be revealed of the inventive concept, only an excerpt of the specific requirements regarding the energy and form factor requirements will be revealed.
Skill definition stage
For each of the above potential solutions identified, technology skill sets that can deliver such solutions need to be identified. Let us take the domain expertise requirement in thermal devices. At this stage Client first needs to identify the exact skill sets required to evaluate each solution. In order to define such skills, client must first create a list of potential ideas and each of these potential ideas may or may not require the same skill set for product conceptualization and design. This “skills” definition process is a critical step in the product development stage. Unicita identifies the technical skill sets required to address the potential solutions identified.
Preliminary IP protection stage
Prior to stating the problem to external research vendors, the client needs to ensure that their intellectual property is protected. At this stage, IP Procure prepares a technical draft of the provisional patent and a patent law firm then used the technical draft as a starting point to file a provisional patent application at the Patent Office. The provisional patent application in this case will state all the feasible solutions and to a limited extent on the enablement of these solutions. As a standard procedure, IP Procure executes mutual non-disclosure agreements between the R&D providers and Client, wherein the agreements ensure that the Client’s product ideas are protected.
R&D provider identification
Unicita has developed a large network of research and development service providers. Unicita accesses its network of R&D providers and identifies a set of most suitable R&D providers who are capable of evaluating the various solution sets identified in the need definition stage. The client then selects the most appropriate set of R&D solution providers.
Unicita provides templates for contractual agreements between the R&D providers and client, wherein the actual contractual agreements are executed after a final review from an independent law firm.
Problem solving and prototyping
The R&D providers across multiple countries work using online collaboration tools along with the client to evaluate, refine and document the solutions. The final documented solutions are again filed at the patent office as a second set of provisional patent applications. The client may also choose to subcontract the prototyping work to either one of the R&D solution providers or a syndicate of solution providers.