It is, of course, one of the classic gems of wisdom is: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” But it is often true. The government also knows that. Which is why many government subsidies are aimed at cooperation between companies. Because cooperation often leads to the pooling of knowledge and to more wonderful and advantageous outcomes. Everybody’s happy, right? Well, not everyone. From an intellectual property perspective, collaborative innovation is a disaster. Although start-up Bambi Medical has come up with a clever way around it.
Bambi Medical: small but smart
A second classic gem of wisdom is a common Dutch saying: “Wie niet groot is, moet slim zijn.” In other words, whoever isn’t mighty, has to be smart. An undeniable fact. The small company Bambi Medical from the Brainport region is developing a wireless sensor strap for premature babies. It started out a few years ago with a limited budget, the requisite medical know-how and a bright idea. The founders just did not have enough technical knowledge back then. Nor did they have any experience in developing medical products. Fortunately, there were plenty of companies in the region that did possess that knowledge and experience. But how do you make sure that you can draw on the knowledge that’s available without inevitably training a future rival at the same time? It turned out to be a careful balancing act.
The art of balancing
In order to find the right kinds of knowledge, you need to share your own knowledge. You have to let other companies know what you are doing and what kind of knowledge you are looking for. But you must not give everything away either. So, it is a balancing act. On the one hand, you should reveal enough to make people curious and enthusiastic and to encourage them to think up things with you. On the other hand, you must keep the essential aspects secret. The stuff you want to patent later on or which will gain you a key competitive advantage. Something that Bambi Medical has done exceedingly well.
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The contract and the first patent application
Whenever anything that concerned essential aspects did have to be shared with their collaborative partners, the company worked with non-disclosure agreements and i-DEPOT. Furthermore, Bambi Medical had all cooperation contracts stipulate that all IP rights associates with medical sensor straps belong to them. That said, contractual agreements are fragile. Which is why, as soon as the technology began to take significant shape, they submitted a patent for it. Even though the technology wasn’t fully crystallized at that point. This way they could, at the very least, prevent others from patenting it, and they were able to share knowledge more readily as a result.
The balancing act continues
The strategy adopted by Bambi Medical meant that cooperation with knowledge partners was much more straightforward. Yet even after the patent application, the developers had to keep on striking a balance between sharing knowledge and keeping certain things under wraps as the development process was far from finished. Through cooperation and finding a good balance between sharing knowledge and keeping things confidential, Bambi Medical was able to amass a great deal of knowledge. They then utilized this to further develop the sensor strap. Recently, they filed new patents for smart technologies that have been developed over the past 2 years. The new filings strengthen the company’s position in the world of medical equipment and increase the value of the company. This helps in efforts to raise funds for further scaling up and also simplifies the process of working together with other partners
The dance that is called cooperation
All right, let’s finish with yet another little gem of wisdom, this time coined by myself: Innovating with others is a delicate dance: watch your step when sharing knowledge. You have to be clear about what you do and don’t want to share and with whom. Everyone who is involved in the cooperation needs to be aware of this. The better you master this dance, the better you can make use of the knowledge in your network.
The Netherlands Patent Office is offering patent webinars in Dutch, if interested, check the patent calendar for all dates, times and information here on www.rvo.nl/octrooiagenda.
About this column
In a weekly column, written alternately by Wendy van Ierschot, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugene Franken, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Mary Fiers and Hans Helsloot Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.
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