An Examination of Independent Inventor Integration in Open Innovation
University of Wolverhampton & Caparo Innovation Centre, UK
University of Wolverhampton, UK
University of Wolverhampton & Caparo Innovation Centre, UK
Open Innovation allows independent inventors to become suppliers of new product ideas to businesses. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of independent inventor approaches, to companies operating Open Innovation mechanisms, result in a commercialised product. Preliminary Critical Success Factors proposed in the previous chapter seek to improve the ability of independent inventors to operate as effective suppliers of new product ideas to businesses through Open Innovation. This chapter will take the preliminary critical success factors proposed in the previous chapter and utilise them as priori constructs (Eisenhardt, 1989) as evidence is sought through case study for their presence or non-presence in a practical context. A case study on the Caparo RightFuel, an automotive device originating from an independent inventor and commercialised through an Open Innovation model, forms the basis of this chapter.
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Open Innovation provides a mechanism for independent inventors to become suppliers of new product ideas to businesses. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of independent inventor approaches to Open Innovation schemes result in a
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-165-8.ch009 commercialised product. The figure for the Caparo Innovation Centre open innovation programme, at the time of writing, stands at 0.7%.
Preliminary Critical Success Factors proposed in the previous chapter seek to improve the ability of independent inventors to operate as effective suppliers of new product ideas to businesses through Open Innovation.
This chapter reinforces the previous chapter by focusing on a case study - The Caparo RightFuel, an automotive device originating from an independent inventor and commercialised through Open Innovation. The case study examines the presence or non-presence of the proposed critical success factors in an actual open innovation context.
Caparo is a multinational manufacturer of steel, automotive and general engineering products. With its headquarters in London, England Caparo was founded in 1968 by the industrialist the Lord Paul of Marylebone.
In 2002, in response to increased competitive pressure from low-cost Far-East manufacturers, Caparo took a strategic decision to supplement its steel processing and manufacturing activity with product ownership. In particular, the organisation were keen to introduce a portfolio of technically innovative new products that benefited from patent protection, as a means of generating alternative higher-margin income streams. Of particular interest to Caparo were mechanically engineered products that have a good synergy with manufacturing processes conducted within the organisation or the markets they currently address:
• Commercial Vehicles
• Oil and Gas
• Power Generation
The physical manifestation of the strategic move towards product ownership was the formation of the Caparo Innovation Centre (CIC), a collaboration between Caparo and the University of Wolverhampton, which was launched in 2003. The CIC’s remit was, and continues to be, the identification and sourcing of innovative new products, typically of a mechanical or engineered nature, that display commercial potential, either through exploitation by Caparo directly or as a revenue stream from a license with an alternative commercial enterprise. The CIC source innovative ideas exclusively from independent inventors and have, at the time of writing, received 805 approaches since inception.
By supplementing traditional sources of innovative new products, through internal R&D teams, with an external source of innovation, Caparo have implemented an Open Innovation strategy skewed towards inbound open innovation (Chesbrough & Crowther, 2006, p. 229).
One of the innovations successfully commercialised via the Open Innovation model employed by the Caparo Innovation Centre is the Caparo RightFuel, which will form the basis of this case study.
This chapter utilises the preliminary critical success factors proposed in the previous chapter, as priori constructs (Eisenhardt, 1989); as evidence is sought through case study for their presence or non-presence in a practical context (see Table 1).
The Caparo RightFuel, an automotive device originating from an independent inventor, Martin White, and commercialised through an Open Innovation model, is used as a case study to con - textualise twelve critical success factors (identified through current academic literature), in a “real - life” Open Innovation setting. A case study approach was selected for this exploratory research because it is an effective method of developing
Table 1. Critical Success Factors enabling independent inventors to becoming more successful suppliers of new product ideas to businesses operating an open innovation model
new theoretical notions that ultimately provide direction to future research inquiries (Dyer & Wilkins, 1991)
The Caparo RightFuel case is one of four planned cases, selected through a theoretical sampling method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) that emphasises the examination of ‘polar types’ (Eisenhardt, 1989 p.537). This particular case was hand-picked because it provides a good example of how an independent inventor can achieve commercial success through the licensing oftheir intellectual property rights to a company, via an open innovation model.
Given the reliance on a single case study, the question of whether it is appropriate to make generalisations is pertinent. Reference is, therefore, made to the work of Flyvbjerg (2006) who lends support to the notion that generalisations are permissible from even a single case study. Indeed, Yin (1994) argues that the number of case studies completed is not in itself important, since the qualitative paradigm does not subscribe to the link between sample sizes and generalisability.
Case Studies allow for a variety of data collection methods, including secondary data from archival sources and data emanating from primary data collection methods, such as: questionnaires, observations and interviews (Eisenhardt, 1989). For this particular research inquiry a series ofthree in-depth interviews with four key participants in the new product introduction process were undertaken. The interviewees1 were selected to provide a multi-perspective view ofthe integration of independent inventors in open innovation. This primary data was supplemented with secondary data in the form of the written documentation provided by Martin White to the Caparo Innovation Centre at their initial meeting. This data included: the initial PowerPoint presentation ofthe opportunity associated with the innovation and a formal Business Plan detailing the technical and commercial case for the innovation. Secondary data on diesel car registrations in the UK obtained from The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd and details of the inventor’s intellectual property position at the point of approaching the Caparo Innovation Centre, accessed via the UK Intellectual Property Office website and original patent documentation, were also considered. The Proquest database, which enables quantification of the number of times a particular search term is mentioned in Newspapers, was also used as a guide to the amount of coverage the act of “Mis- fuelling” received in UK Newspapers.
The interviews conducted as part of the case study approach to this research inquiry were semi-structured and based on a series of interview prompts. Each interview lasted on average 61 minutes. Each respondent was given the opportunity to review and comment upon the transcribed interviews prior to their utilisation.
In relation to this chapter, the term misfuelling relates specifically to incidents of drivers incorrectly putting petrol into diesel powered cars. The effects of such action can be both far reaching and expensive. In most modern diesel engines the oil content within the diesel is essential to lubricate the engine; in the event of petrol being added and the engine being started, or primed, the potential for serious engine damage is considerable due to the lack of lubrication. In addition, the seals within a diesel engine are adversely affected by petrol, which causes them to soften, contributing further engine damage. The cost of rectifying this mistake can vary from less than one hundred pounds to have the fuel tank drained, up to tens of thousands of pounds for replacement parts for a sophisticated engine.
Misfuelling a petrol car with diesel is very difficult because a diesel nozzle on a garage forecourt is too large to fit into the filling aperture on a petrol car; however the smaller petrol nozzle can easily be inserted into the filling aperture on a diesel car. Since the process of fuelling a vehicle usually involves little conscious thought and combined petrol//diesel pumps are commonplace the high incidence of misfuelling is understandable.
According to the AA Motoring Trust, misfuelling diesel vehicles occurs in the UK approximately 120,000 times a year2 with the average repair costs standing at £70 003. Fleet and Lease Vehicle operators are the most heavily affected by misfuelling incidents with data from Lloyds TSB Autolease indicating costs of £250,000 as a result of 750 misfuelling incidents in first 8-months of 20064
With sales of new diesel cars increasing year - on-year, both within the UK and parts of Western Europe, there is acknowledgment that misfuelling is becoming an increasingly common problem5
At the time the Caparo RightFuel device was initially presented to the Caparo Innovation Centre, Misfuelling Prevention Devices were being introduced as Original Equipment on the Ford Mondeo; however there was no evidence of competing retro-fit devices. This situation changed during the development programme when the inventor and licensee became aware of two competing development projects: SoloDiesel and the Fuel Angel.
The Caparo RightFuel is a retro-fit device, which prevents motorists putting petrol in diesel powered cars. The device replaces the filler cap on the vehicles and is designed so that when a diesel fuel filler nozzle is inserted, a physical barrier incorporated within the device swings out of the way allowing fuel to be added to the vehicle. The device can distinguish between petrol and diesel fuelling nozzles and will not open when someone attempts to insert the smaller diameter petrol nozzle, therefore preventing the wrong fuel being added to the vehicle (see Figures 1 and 2).
The Caparo RightFuel device was invented by Martin White. Martin is a retired Royal Navy Commander with a career that spanned 37-years. He lives in Somerset, England with his wife Teresa.
Figure 1. The Caparo RightFuel Device (1)
Figure 2. The Caparo RightFuel Device (2)
Command Structure. His duties included creating the vision, concepts and detailed requirements for the future ofintelligence within NATO, providing military advice to NATO HQ (Brussels) and the nations and the production of directives and plans for current military operations.
In terms of formal education Martin has an ONC in Aeronautical Engineering from Dundrum Technical College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland.
Martin makes use of the additional spare time he has in retirement by undertaking building design and construction tasks and developing innovations and fabrications in metal, wood and Glass Reinforced Plastic. Martin is a member of the South West Inventors Club, UK.
Upon joining the Royal Navy in 1967, Martin was employed as an Airframes and Engines Artificer where his duties included the maintenance of Phantom, Vixen and Hunter Jets and Wasp and Sea King Helicopters. It was in this role that Martin developed his mechanical engineering
skills that he later applied to the Caparo RightFuel innovation.
By 1975, Martin had been appointed into his first Air Traffic Control position and by 1998 he had risen up the ranks to Senior Royal Navy staff officer for Aviation Operations Support and Head of the Royal Navy Air Traffic Control Branch.
In 2001, Martin served within Strategic HQ Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium where he was responsible for transformation of intelligence organisation within the new NATO
The Caparo RightFuel case provides support for the notion that time commitment plays an important part in the capacity of independent inventors to act as effective suppliers of innovations to businesses through Open Innovation. The concept of an independent inventor operating as a supplier is reliant upon the inventor having something to supply. Without the time and importantly dedication to inventing this particular inventor would not have had a product with which to approach Caparo.
“I had plenty of time having recently retired and I had always had an interest in innovation, I had several ideas in the past that I never had time to work on, but here was an ideal problem that needed a solution and because I thought the solution lay within my sphere of experience, I decided to dedicate quite a bit of time to it.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
“When I decided to run with this project, I did become quite single minded about dedicating a lot of time to it and there was one particular winter where I was quite happy to spend 10 hours at a stretch in a cold workshop cutting metal when I got to that phase, so, the time is very important and to be focussed on a project I think is quite important.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
In addition to both having free-time and the dedication to spend that time on innovation, the inventor reveals that devoting time to selecting a single innovation to pursue and then focussing fully on that innovation is more advantageous, in his eyes, than pursuing multiple innovations with less focus.
“...an individual can’t have lots of great ideas that they’ve really worked through and can offer them as being of significant potential; you need a huge amount of research and time dedicated to this sort of endeavour to decide that the one project is worth proceeding with, so available time and dedication are quite important.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
The inventor ofthe Caparo RightFuel demonstrated a willingness to invest in intellectual property protection, in the form of a Patent, prior to engaging with the Open Innovation programme operated by Caparo. A UK patent application, GB0524168.2, was filed by the inventor on the 26th November 2005 carrying the title of: “Diesel Vehicle Misfuel - ling Preventer”, whilst the initial approach to the Caparo Innovation Centre was made on the 29th August 2006, just over 9-months later.
The inventor’s views on patent utilisation are particularly interesting. Whilst conventional wisdom may suggest that independent inventors are best served by having their patent application drafted by a professional Patent Agent, this course of action was not pursued by the inventor. Instead he chose to draft the patent application to the UK Intellectual Property Office himself, without professional assistance.
“First of all I could easily decipher that this sort of product needed to be protected by patenting rather than any other form of protection and having spent a lot of time researching alternative prior art out there it seemed to me that it wasn’t that hugely difficult to put together some sort of a patent.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
Under questioning as to why he chose to file for patent without Patent Agent involvement the inventor revealed that five factors were influential. Firstly, he was confident in his ability to draft an application that covered the critical technical aspects of the innovation. Secondly, the financial cost of filing a patent application, via a patent agent, is notably more expensive than the inventor drafting a submission himself, so this approach minimised cost. Thirdly, the inventor expressed a view that having filed for a patent he felt more able to disclose details of the product to third parties enabling progress towards commercialisation.
“There was no point in having a prototype and exposing it to other people unless I could also say that I had some form of protection in place...” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
Fourthly, the existence of a patent application was seen as adding credibility to the business case around the innovation, making it more appealing to potential investors. Finally, filing of a UK Patent acted as a holding mechanism, enabling the inventor to place a stake in the ground and secure a priority date at an early stage in the development process; before another party lay claim to a similar innovation. This was particularly important given that diesel misfuelling was becoming a nationally recognised issue, illustrated by the Telegraph newspaper article entitled “A Costly Mistake” published on the 27th August 2005, just 2-months before the inventor filed his UK patent application.
The inventor had benefitted from particularly wide-ranging experience and was equipped to develop a credible technical and commercial case for the innovation in his own right. This fact is pertinent in so much as the inventor rarely sought advice, support or guidance from third party organisations.
“I would rather spend a lot of time acquiring the machinery so that I could do it with my own hands rather than entrusting anything to a third party. ” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
Indeed the inventor only sought a professional opinion of his patent application after submission, when he received a free 30 minute consultation, and although he was interacting with an Innovation Councillor from a public-sector advice provider during the R&D process, he appeared to find this experience less rewarding than it might have been.
“The one negative aspect in all this was that I was appointed an Innovation Counsellor who supported our Inventors Club and that linkage was quite useful, but my counsellor was of the opinion that private inventors very rarely break into the motor trade because the motor industry has huge amounts of R & D capacity and it’s quite difficult for an individual outside of that business to bring anything new to the party. But nevertheless I was undeterred because I still felt that the weight of evidence said there was a market there.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (CaparoRightFuel), 14th January.
A fascinating feature of this particular case is the extent to which the inventor appears to value the practical, first-hand experience of other inventors more than that offered by professional innovation experts. The tone and enthusiasm evident when discussing the advice he received from members of the South-West Inventors Club was in stark contrast to the air of disappointment articulated when discussing the views expressed by his appointed professional Innovation Councillor.
“Fortunately I had identified an inventors club and joined that about the same time as I made the prototypes and found that there was a mine of information there, people who had succeeded and people who were struggling, but there were people here with lots of advice about non disclosure agreements, about the requirement to patent, about the limitations on the protection provided by patenting.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
A feature of the interview conducted with the independent inventor of RightFuel was the degree to which he was aware of the various organisations responsible for innovation within the UK.
“Nesta produced quite a goodpaper about 8 years ago which talked about a strategy for invention, it flounderedfor lack offinance I guess and then later our own regional development agency in the South West instituted a study, lots of public money expended on revisiting work and brain storming with people in business and Universities and, they put together a new document which was called ‘The Strategy for Supporting Invention ’but again it came to a full stop when it got beyond the concept...” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
To this end there is very little evidence to suggest that the inventor’s limited use of third party advice was attributable to a general lack of awareness over available support.
The Caparo RightFuel case does little to dispel the proposal that timing plays an important role in the effectiveness of independent inventors to act as suppliers of new products to businesses through Open Innovation. Whilst it is not possible to form an accurate judgement as to whether the inventor would have been more or less successful had his approach been made at a different point in time, the case study provides evidence that the timing of the approach from the inventor to Caparo was advantageous. Consideration is given to the following; the initial approach made by the inventor, to the Caparo Innovation Centre, was made on the 29th August 2006. As an automotive accessory, for use exclusively on diesel powered cars, the market potential for this innovation is intrinsically linked to the number of diesel cars on the road. Secondary data in the form of New Car Registration figures for the UK provided by The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd suggests that whilst diesel powered cars held a market share of just 14.1% of all new car registrations in the year 2000, the market share held by newly registered diesel powered cars, in the
UK in the year 2006, when the commercialisation attempt was made, was significantly greater at 38.3%. In volume terms this equates to an increase in the registration of new diesel powered cars of 65.1% over the 7-year period, between the year 2000 and 2006 (see Table 2).
Whilst there appears scope to argue that the new car registration figures for the year 2000 may still have provided enough of an incentive for a prospective licensee to show interest in the product, the fact that an automotive device, designed to fit exclusively on diesel cars, was introduced to Caparo at a point in time when the number of newly registered diesel cars were at an all time high, was critical to the positive view taken of this innovation. This assertion is reinforced by the comments of the eventual licensee, Caparo AP Braking, who revealed that the decision to take on a new product was primarily data-driven.
“Its data driven, it’s strategically driven where the business is looking at entering a market or entering a product range andfinancial yes.” Sarel-Cooke, H. (2010) Personal Interview (experiences from the Caparo RightFuel programme), 7th January.
The data contained in Table 3 illustrates the extent to which the act of misfuelling gained prominence in UK newspapers between the year 2000 and 2007. At the point when the inventor filed his UK Patent application in 2005, there were double the number of newspaper articles containing the term misfuelling than the previous year, suggesting recognition of the misfuelling problem was growing. By the 17th October 2007, when the Collaboration Agreement was signed between the inventor Martin White, the Caparo Innovation Centre and the eventual licensee, the number of newspaper articles containing the term “misfuelling” had again doubled from 10 articles in 2005 to 20 articles in 2007. This suggests that either by luck or judgement the inventors timing in seeking to commercialise this innovation was impeccable.
Table 2. New Diesel Car Registrations UK: Year 2000 - 2006
Source: The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd (2008) SMMT New Car Registrations 2003-2008 [online]. Available at: http://www. smmt. co. uk/search/searchresults2. cfm? fid=2&stid=1 [accessed 11th January 2010].
The following comment by the Managing Director of the Caparo AP Braking, who took the license for this technology, summarises the degree to which the inventor introduced the product at an appropriate point in time and the impact it had:
“.at the time there was a screaming demandfor something, you had companies saying how much they were spending on misfuelling and putting equipment right. It was a key thing in a lot of the newspapers ‘what can we do to overcome this problem. ’ You remember Top Gearplaying around with different scenarios and then slating the simple solution or what was classed as rubbish solutions. There was a very clear demand and as I said diesel market, how big is it?” Geldard-Williams, N. (2010) Personal Interview (experiences from the Caparo RightFuel programme), 7th January.
The inventor of the Caparo RightFuel benefited from access to potentially critical resources. Having recently retired from a military career spanning 37-years, at least part ofwhich was spent in senior positions, financial constraints were not a significant barrier to the inventor’s ability to negotiate the early stages of the new product introduction process. Indeed, the inventor had purchased machining equipment, in the form of a lathe, to support his progress towards developing a working prototype, financed his own patent application and purchased the raw material and components required for several iterations of the prototype using his own money.
In terms of non-financial resources, the inventor divulged during interview that he had access to a concrete resource, in the form of a workshop at his home, which provided him with space in which to develop his innovation in private.
“.I just created a small workshop, I have got a reasonable size garage and I just found a home for the lathe, it’s quite a large machine, but I had various other little machine tools.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
In addition to traditional non-financial resources, the inventor’s mechanical engineering knowledge garnered as a Royal Navy Aircraft Artificer between 1967-73, was a most significant resource, giving him the ability to design, draw and craft in metal.
Whilst extant literature points to the family being the primary source of social support for independent inventors (Whalley, 1991) it is notable that no direct mention was made of the inventor relying on his family for support during the development of this innovation. Seemingly more integral to his success was his involvement with the South-West Inventors Club. This organisation provided a formal social support network where the inventor could discuss his innovation with other inventors under the protection of a Non-Disclosure
Table 3. Number ofProQuest Newspaper articles containing the term “Misfuelling” 2000-2007 (UK)
Agreement. The shared practical experience of individuals in this network, combined with the absence of commercial business representation, was highly valued by the inventor.
“Right from the outset they appeared to be a good group to expose ideas to because each meeting is proceeded by a non disclosure agreement where everyone around the table agrees not to discuss what has been exposed and usually new members will come to the club and they won’t say anything for the first time round, but very quickly they realise that it’s a friendly environment, there are no poachers, so I talked about my idea quite openly at the second meeting and people made various suggestions and I learnt a little bit more about patent protection and the forms of non disclosure agreements, so yes I found it was a an extremely beneficial environment to be involved in.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
Interestingly, whilst it might be assumed that the primary function of a social support network is to provide encouragement and morale support for the inventor in what has the potential to be an isolating activity; the inventor of the Caparo
RightFuel appeared to place greater importance on the frankness of the discussions that took place at the inventor club meetings. This is an intriguing consideration, whilst family members and friends may contribute positive and reassuring comments out of a close personal bond with the inventor, the formal structure of the inventor club environment coupled with looser personal ties appears to allow a frank exchange of views, regarding an innovation, that is potentially important to future commercial success.
This case provides evidence of the importance of adopting a credible business persona. Consideration is given to the following two excerpts from the interview with a Caparo Innovation Centre representative:
“...I think inventors are quite poor at presenting ideas and it is difficult to directly transfer the knowledge the inventor has derived straight into a company. There needs to be some manipulation of that first.” Lester, J. (2010) Personal Interview (views on the Caparo RightFuel programme), 13th January.
“Martin came to us face-to-face and he had come especially well prepared really for an inventor. He had produced a well thought out business case and a written description and he had also produced a PowerPoint pitch presentation and really goodprototypes. Just by coming so prepared is refreshing really because so many inventors come to us with little supporting evidence that to actually have this presented to us was a positive thing in terms of where Martin is concerned and we obviously sat and listened a little bit more.” Lester, J. (2010) Personal Interview (views on the Caparo RightFuel programme), 13th January.
In considering the statements above, it is possible to draw a contrast between the almost formal business approach adopted by the inventor of the Caparo RightFuel, which contained a Business Plan, formal presentation and demonstration of prototypes, with the relatively ill considered and amateurish approach apparently taken by some independent inventors. The excerpts also provide a clue as to how much simpler it is for a receiving company to have information presented to them that requires little manipulation before use.
Certainly, formal training, broad experience and exposure to both technical and business functions appeared to have been pivotal to the inventor’s ability to come across as credible to the licensee and product assessment team at the Caparo Innovation Centre. The following excerpts illustrate the technical, commercial and legal competence of the inventor:
“These rely upon the lubricating properties of diesel oil to maintain the pumps and metering devices in the vehicle fuel system. If these are contaminated with petrol, metal-to-metal contact will quickly occur, producing fine swarf that can destroy components.” White, M. (2006) Personal Communication (Business Plan), 22ndSeptember.
“The main impediment to marketing is the belief by many owners that it will never happen to them. However, the following logic indicates otherwise. The device is aform of insurance and its retailpricing maybe influenced by the insurance analogy; for a one offpayment the owner of an expensive product (diesel car) is insuredfor the lifetime ofthe vehicle from misfuelling repairs well over £1000 (Daily Telegraph average = £7000). Now consider the UK Statistical likelihood of misfuelling taking the 3.6 million cars (diesels under 6-years old) divided by 120,000 (incidents per year) = 3.33% over a period of 6-years of ownership = 20%. In other words, there is a 1 in 5 chance the average UK diesel user will misfuel...” White, M. (2006)
Personal Communication (Business Plan), 22nd September.
“The issue has been raised at EU Commission level, by MEP Liz Lynne...” White, M. (2006) Personal Communication (Business Plan), 22nd September.
In addition to competence across engineering and business functions and adherence to formal business practices; the ability to speak the language of business was also evident in the case. This appears to have benefitted the inventor in so much as it made him easier to work with and ensured the licensee and assessment team fully understood the nature of his pitch and the advantages brought about by his innovation.
“It was a brief business plan with the expected headings that you would generally see in a standard type of layout and it addressed a lot of the marketing type of qualification and justification issues, it also demonstrated Martins technical competence because he was a recognised engineer in the navy and it added to his case really and it left us some real good evidence to take away and to just check up on certain elements. It was a good written document.” Lester, J. (2010) Personal Interview (views on the Caparo RightFuel programme), 13th January.
In forming a view as to how the inventor was able to achieve such a formalised business approach, consideration is given to the time the inventor spent as an aviation engineer in the military, which would have fostered a reasonable understanding of engineering principles and subsequent administrative duties undertaken as his naval career developed, which would have assisted with developing business acumen and the ability to adhere to common business etiquette.
“I think given his background as a Naval Commander he has always been used to having structure, having not worked in an abstract environment that probably some of the other inventors have had...” Sarel-Cooke, H. (2010) Personal Interview (experiences from the Caparo RightFuel programme), 7th January.
“.having been in the Royal Navyfor 37 years but within that 37years I had done so many different things from engineering in terms of actually cutting metal and making things, right the way through to dealing with an Industry and procurement. Understanding a little bit about contracts, about the difficulties of delivering services, but also in my years as a Staff Officer framing arguments andputting together arguments in a fairly concise fashion, the importance ofpresentation, so I felt that I had the administrative skills as well as the engineering background and then in the middle the aviation industry appreciation of safety factors, engineering out problems, understanding thatfor every modificationyou make to something there will be negative aspects as well as positive aspects...” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
This case provides evidence of an inventor that was willing to share information concerning his innovation with others in a formal setting, but always under the protection of a Non-Disclosure Agreement or filed UK Patent Application. The provision of a written Business Plan and a formal pitch presentation provides evidence that the inventor was willing to share considerable amounts of information in order to convince potential licensees of the innovations value.
Again referring to Caparo’s reliance upon data to inform the decision to take on a new product, it seems inconceivable that the inventor would have been successful had he not been willing to share information.
Whilst it may be assumed that trust is a critical ingredient in the willingness to share information concerning an innovation, the inventor took the view that he became more trusting of the licensee as time passed and their contact levels grew. This suggests that in the early stages of the new product introduction process, the lower levels of trust were mitigated by the presence of formal legal agreements that helped ensure confidentiality and facilitated a willingness to share information.
“The ideal prime licensee will be experienced in the automotive industry, be seeking a new market - leading product and will possess:
The expertise to deal with the legal and business aspects
Manufacturing capability or the experience and connections to source more effective production abroad. ” White, M. (2006) Personal Communication (Business Plan), 22nd September.
This statement made by the inventor in his initial business plan demonstrates that he had little problem in identifying the characteristics he desired in a potential commercial partner. However, the inventor also expressed a view that identifying the right people in an organisation and gaining an invitation to present to organisations is challenging.
“Whilst I was waiting for a response from them I had prepared documents, PowerPoint presentation, a brief on the basic invention without disclosing too much and started short listing Industries, Companies that might be partners, written to a number of people and had lengthy conversations, managed to have interviews with about four Companies under non disclosure agreements and I started to realise that this was the real difficulty, this was the most difficult area for my invention, probably for most inventors, to convince people that the idea had a commercial future and that it was worth investing in at some risk.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
“The aim of this plan is to seek a licensing agreement with a capable firm...” White, M. (2006) Personal Communication (Business Plan), 22nd September.
The inventor of the Caparo RightFuel identified his preference for commercialisation, via a licensing arrangement, at a relatively early stage in the development process; prior to prototype production.
A key driver behind the decision to pursue commercialisation via a licensing agreement was the inventors desire to concentrate on aspects of the new product introduction process that he enjoyed.
“... it goes back to the desire to use my engineering skills rather than spending a lot of time running a business... for me the passion of being involved in design, taking something from a concept through to a prototype was much more important than the administration of running the business.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (CaparoRightFuel), 14th January.
“.I really wanted to concentrate on engineering and for me the licensing route was always the natural choice.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
In commenting upon the selection of a commercialisation path, the inventor felt that early decision making, concerning a suitable commercial route, was critical to avoiding costly and unnecessary expenditure, especially in the area of intellectual property protection, where he argued that such protection was not always essential for success, depending on the planned commercialisation path, and occasionally a poor investment.
Whilst developing a solution to a problem he had personally experienced was a satisfying process for the inventor, the focus of the RightFuel project, from the inventor’s perspective, was always one of income generation; as such there was a good synergy between the inventor and corporate objectives.
“I think his expectations ofthe product in terms of volume movement are certainly higher than where it is at the moment and so was ours. ” Sarel-Cooke, H. (2010) Personal Interview (experiences from the Caparo RightFuel programme), 7th January.
“.I never wanted to invest a lot of time without reward” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
In considering the expectations ofthe inventor towards the product commercialisation process, three important issues are illustrated by this particular case. Firstly, the inventor’s expectations and aspirations for the project were not onerous.
“The inventor desires to be involved in the further development of this project only in so far as the licensee considers his services to be beneficial.” White, M. (2006) Personal Communication (Business Plan), 22nd September.
Secondly, the inventor displayed a willingness to compromise and be flexible with his expectations as the development process progressed “I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss your quarterly reports in accordance with Clause
3. d. to our assignment agreement, but would be content to meet every 6-months.” White, M.
(2008) Personal Communication (Meeting review schedule), 4th October.
Finally, the inventor was professional in his conduct in instances when his expectations were not met.
“.I think sometimes he is a little frustrated with the speed of progress but he is professional through and through and he doesn’t rant and rave at the Company which would be detrimental and he always provides his services if they need assistance with certain technical points.” Lester, J. (2010) Personal Interview (views on the Caparo RightFuel programme), 13th January.
“He hasn’t gone up in the air and said you’re doing it wrong...” Sarel-Cooke, H. (2010) Personal Interview (experiences from the Caparo RightFuel programme), 7th January.
Whilst the inventor revealed that he had no personal experience of new product introduction, prior to his attempts with the Caparo RightFuel, he had significant experience of operating within a technical field closely aligned with his innovation, which aided him in developing a relevant innovation and in supporting the development and commercialisation of the product.
“.going back to my early days as an artificer, we had spent an awful lot of time in the classroom dealing with fluid dynamics, mainly to do with air and aviation but also to do with liquid fluid systems, air being a fluid as well, but to do with hydraulic systems andfuel systems but I had spent a lot of time setting engines and gearboxes to helicopters and jet aircrafts so I knew quite a lot about fluid systems involved in those platforms, so in a way this particular project was a bit of a gift because again it was down to fluid dynamics, to control valves and a lot of the bits ofmetal that I was making I had some familiarity with, how they would be employed in an aircraft system so it was a joy to go back to my engineering days and to become familiar again with things I had known so many years earlier, certainly a gift.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
The case provides evidence that the inventor’s previous employment experience was important to the process of commercialisation and his ability to convince the eventual licensee as to the merits of the innovation.
“I think that subconsciously that some of the guys when they talk to him out there and whatever, that knowing his background was as a Naval Commander they listened to him more... ” Sarel-Cooke,
H. (2010) Personal Interview (experiences from the Caparo RightFuel programme), 7th January.
“He is notjust a guy who has come in with an idea off the street, he’s a guy who has lived in the real world and he has obviously been to meetings where he has had to behave in thatforum.” Sarel-Cooke,
H. (2010) Personal Interview (experiences from the Caparo RightFuel programme), 7th January.
In addition to the proposed critical success factors presented in the previous chapter, “within - case analysis” (Eisenhardt, 1989) suggests three emergent critical success factors.
Both the Caparo Innovation Centre and Caparo AP Braking identified the need for independent inventors to act as a partner to the commercialising company. The ability to understand that the potential licensee is not a contract manufacturer producing a product to specification, but rather an entity that is invested in and committed to progressing and evolving an innovation is critical.
“I think where Martin worked and I think as a general for inventors is that they have to understand that when they are bringing this to somebody, they are going to be working as a partnership and that partnership, like any partnership, whether it be person or business will go through rough stages andyou will have to be able to bare your soul and be able to take on criticism when it’s intended to be from a positive point of view. ” Sarel-Cooke,
H. (2010) Personal Interview (experiences from the Caparo RightFuel programme), 7th January.
“Martin came to the table wanting to work with us rather than us to do some work for him. The ownership was different, rather than us do work on a project that belonged to an inventor, it’s more like I have got this to share and we can take it together to get it commercialised. His whole approach was different from the outset.” Lester, J. (2010) Personal Interview (views on the Caparo RightFuel programme), 13th January.
This case provides evidence that a critical factor in the inventor’s success was his ability to relinquish total control of the innovation and not hold on too tightly. As such accepting that the receiving company will have certain areas of expertise and putting faith in that expertise appears important.
“.I didn’t have too much difficulty with the idea of them owning the project, taking itforward and taking a back seat because I suppose from the outset I had always had the view that concept to prototype and a bit of admin to convince other people to come on board was what I really wanted to do. I can see that other inventors who haven’t got a definite view on the licensing route might find that process difficult. If they had a mind perhaps to manufacture themselves or to set up a business or to be a partner within a business then they might find that detachment a little bit difficult.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
“.it is very important for them (the licensee) to start to view the project as their project and this business of relinquishing your control or ownership is very important for the overall success of the project. Other people have to buy into it and you have got to be prepared to be sidelined and to relinquish a lot of control. That’s a fairly necessary part of the licensing route and I suppose a lot of inventors find that very difficult to live with.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
“.he has been pretty smart and took the back seat at times and been very supportive.” Geldard - Williams, N. (2010) Personal Interview (experiences from the Caparo RightFuel programme), 7th January.
An apparently important factor for independent inventors seeking to become recognised as a viable supplier of new products is their ability to filter-out weak and unviable innovations to allow them to dedicate their resources effectively.
This case provides a number of pieces of evidence to support this, in particular, instances where the inventor trialled ideas before discarding those that were deemed unviable.
“I started drawing and over a very long period of time dismissed lots of ideas.” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
The dangers of not filtering out innovations effectively lies in the misplaced allocation of resources, often in support of new product ideas that are flawed from the outset.
“One of the most difficult things I guess is to tell people that actually their idea is rubbish and they need to go back to the drawing board, but I guess a lot of people have got to realise that. We have met individuals in our own Inventors Club who have invested a huge amount of money on ideas that are never going to return any of that money, because they missed a few steps at the outset, became obsessed with a view that they were right when patently they were wrong and no one ever really had the guts to stand up to them and say you need to look at this there is plenty prior art, this is on the market, think long and hard before you proceed any further. ” White, M. (2010) Personal Interview (Caparo RightFuel), 14th January.
This work acknowledges twelve critical success factors, proposed in the previous chapter. We find support for the twelve critical success factors, which are present within the Caparo RightFuel case study.
In terms of Time Commitment both having time available and making a decision to commit that available time to innovation is important. It is our view that without the necessary time commitment made to inventing and developing the business case, independent inventors will find it difficult to firstly develop the innovations they wish to supply businesses with and secondly provide the level of data required to mitigate the increased risk associated with taking on externally generated innovations.
In considering the Use of Intellectual Property a willingness to invest in Intellectual Property Protection is important. In addition, a patent application, which covers a multitude of technical solutions to the problem in question, certainly appears to enhance the commercial value of the inventor’s business proposition, by making it more difficult to circumvent.
In our opinion independent inventors must make every effort to familiarise themselves with the Intellectual Property Protection mechanisms open to them, how they are utilised in a commercial sense and whether investment in intellectual property is appropriate for their particular innovation, given the proposed mode of commercialisation, the industry sector they are hoping to enter and their available financial resource to both take out IP Protection and pursue those that infringe their rights.
The importance of advice, guidance and support appears to be influenced by the extent of the inventor’s technical and commercial competence or previous experience of negotiating the new product introduction process. As such, in some instances support maybe vital whilst in other cases the inventor maybe able to fair well without additional assistance.
In considering the type of advice, guidance and support provided for independent inventors it is important to note that reliance on professional innovation practitioners is not always desirable and that much can be gained from engaging the assistance of peers with practical experience of innovation and new product introduction, potentially via Inventor Clubs.
There is reasonable evidence from the case study to suggest that the timing of the innovation approach is important. This perhaps reinforces the need for inventors to look for solutions to current problems and avoid the situation where they continue to invest in and promote an innovation that no longer meets need. Conversely, it may be difficult for independent inventors who propose products that speculate heavily on what the market may need in the future, as the associated risks in this situation are considerable and are likely to deter businesses.
Access to resources whether financial, concrete, raw materials or suitable tools are critical to the inventors ability to prove the concept and produce a functioning prototype. At present independent inventors are overly reliant on their own ability to acquire these resources. The provision of community based inventor groups that provide the physical resources for inventors may therefore be worth considering. Consideration should also be given as to why there is so little financial support available to independent inventors, when there is so much available to SME’s.
Access to formal and informal social support networks appears important, but not in the way extant literature seemed to indicate. Whilst the inventor’s family maybe critical in providing support, motivation and reassurance to independent inventors, formal support networks, in the guise of inventors clubs, provide a platform for a frank exchange of views regarding innovation. To a degree, the objective, constructive criticism offered by a formal support network provides a good counterbalance to the subjective support of family members and helps prevent inventors pursuing inventions that are commercially or technically unviable.
The ability to convey a credible business persona is central to the success of independent inventors. The credibility of independent inventors is an important consideration in the review process undertaken for new products originating from outside a company. The ability to talk the language of business, operate in a formal business environment and present data in a fashion that facilitates understanding and minimises the need for excessive manipulation adds credibility to both the inventor and the business case.
It would appear that previous experience of operating in a formal business context is advantageous or alternatively it would be helpful for independent inventors to undergo training in business practice and conventions.
A willingness to share information is critical because ofthe effect good quality information has on the perceived risk associated with an externally generated innovation. Disclosure of information should be restricted to those instances where either a Non-Disclosure Agreement or Patent application is in place.
The ability to identify and gain access to potential commercial partners is both important and challenging for independent inventors. Whilst inventors maybe able to take a view as to whether a business is operating in a suitable industrial sector it is much more difficult to identify the manufacturing capability, desire for new products and appropriate internal point of contact within a company. Whilst those companies that operate a formal Open Innovation Strategy may make this process less demanding, we believe that there continues to be a large number of businesses that are receptive to external ideas from inventors that do not make this known to the independent inventor community.
The ability to select a commercialisation path early in the new product development process is beneficial in terms of providing focus to the new product introduction process and minimising the number of blind alleys the inventor travels down. In addition, selection of a commercialisation path early in the process can inform the degree to which IP protection is required and as such prevent unnecessary costs from being accumulated.
In deciding upon a preferred commercialisation path, we would advocate the that the inventor appraise their skills-set and as such their ability to run a business, the extent to which they want to risk personal wealth, their desire to control and be involved in commercialisation and their expectations over financial reward, if any.
Close alignment of inventor and corporate objectives seems beneficial to the chances of inventors operating effectively as suppliers of new products to business. The corporate obj ective of introducing a new product is biased towards generating a financial return. Inventors need to be aware of this from the outset and understand that many of the decisions regarding the product development and introduction will be governed by this objective. From how the product is manufactured, where it’s manufactured, what material it’s made from, through to the market it’s targeted at.
The experience of the inventor is critical to the extent that specialist knowledge in a certain industry may be viewed as positive by potential commercial partners and in addition improves the potential that an innovation is market driven and relevant. Experience in a formal business context would appear be more useful in adding credibility to a business proposal.
The findings from this research inquiry suggest a further three emergent critical success factors (see Table 4).
Independent inventors should view commercialisation of new products via Open Innovation as a partnership arrangement. Despite originating the innovation, independent inventors need to acknowledge that the success of the project is often contingent upon the receiving company and inventor working together to fully understand the legacy of the product, garner specialist industry insight and minimise divertive actions. An ability to operate within a partnership is therefore critical.
The ability to relinquish total control of an innovation is essential if independent inventors are to become effective suppliers of new products to businesses through Open Innovation. It is fundamentally important that the receiving company buys-in to the innovation. As such it is necessary for independent inventors to take a back-seat on occasion and allow the collective expertise of the business to add to the project.
Table 4. Emergent critical success factors
For independent inventors to supply the most commercially and technically viable product solutions to businesses they must make frequent assessments oftheir innovation and take on-board external input. If after research and consultation innovations appear flawed they should be filtered out and attention should switch to an alternative solution or project.
Independent inventors have the potential to be effective suppliers ofnew product ideas to businesses operating Open Innovation. If the commercialisation opportunities presented by Open Innovation, for independent inventors, are to be maintained then inventors must become more successful suppliers. Within this chapter we find support for the twelve critical success factors proposed in the previous chapter. A further three emergent critical success factors are acknowledged and we will continue to investigate the significance of these as this research inquiry progresses. We believe that the biggest contribution made by these two chapters is the amalgamation and communication of critical success factors, from disparate academic literature, in a format that independent inventors and those businesses operating open innovation will find usable in a practical sense; by paying heed to these factors independent inventors should become more effective suppliers to companies operating Open Innovation and enhance the sustainability of such operations.
Whilst this chapter is geared towards the steps that independent inventors should take to become more effective suppliers, there are some important implications for those individuals responsible for the management of Open Innovation. Firstly, management may wish to consider how they can improve their visibility as an organisation operating Open Innovation. Independent inventors find it difficult to identify companies to approach with their innovations and within those companies
identify who the key contact is. Importantly, managers may wish to consider identifying themselve s as being open to approaches from independent inventors.
Open Innovation Managers may also wish to consider the proposed Critical Success Factors and determine how they can encourage independent inventors that want to engage with their business to operate accordingly. A prescriptive process that requires independent inventors to submit specific written details as part of the initial approach would help to ensure that inventors have given due consideration to key factors in advance of the first meeting.
Whilst much can be learnt about a proposed innovation from reading documentation prepared by an independent inventor, the degree to which an independent inventor and business can work together is critical to success. As such we would advocate that managers operating Open Innovation request a face-to-face meeting with independent inventors early in their process.
A potential concern of management operating Open Innovation models that allow independent inventors to act as suppliers is the cost of handling the high quantity of inquiries. Consideration should be given as to how administrative hurdles can be utilised to deter approaches from those that do not have the capacity or desire to see-out a potentially long development programme.
A final consideration for those managers wishing to encourage independent inventors to act as suppliers is the stance they propose to take over confidential information. As a general rule independent inventors are unlikely to disclose information concerning a proposed new product without either having filed a patent application or completed a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Whilst smaller companies may feel able to sign up to NDA and adhere to the principles of this arrangement, many larger businesses feel this is practically impossible. As such independent inventors will need to file for patent.
This work identifies the preliminary findings of an exploratory larger scale research inquiry and as such should be viewed in the context of work-in progress. Although it represents a narrow view of a complex subject we believe that the case study approach to this inquiry has added valuable evidence in support oftwelve critical success factors, and has identified three emergent critical success factors. It is envisaged that through the examination of further cases, the knowledge relating to this field of research will be extended.
As mentioned earlier in the chapter, the value of the case study approach is in the formation of new insights that drive future research inquiries (Dyer and Wilkins, 1991). In terms of future research, studies that test the boundaries of the identified critical success factors by focussing on potential regional variations or variations across industry sectors would be valuable.
It is important to acknowledge that the critical success factors identified in this chapter are intentionally focussed on improving the ability of independent inventors to become successful suppliers of innovative product ideas to businesses operating open innovation. This is of course one-side of the coin. As such, there is potential for shifting the research focus away from the independent inventor and on to the receiving company, licensee, to discover if critical success factors relating to their involvement in the integration of independent inventors in open innovation can be established.
The authors wish to thank Caparo for allowing us access to their facilities during this research inquiry. In addition we wish to extend our thanks to Martin White the independent inventor behind the Caparo RightFuel.