Ever since early man made the first wheel and then set about finding new ways to put it to use, innovation has fuelled progress, ignited business and solved problems.
Developing an idea, disrupting tired old ones and creating solutions have changed the way we work, live and relax the world over for centuries.
While there’s nothing terribly new about coming up with bright new products or creating clever answers to tricky challenges – after all where would we be today without innovators like John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell or the Wright Brothers – today’s perfect combination of digital advances, instant global connectivity, customer demand and smart, agile start-ups have placed innovation at the top of most companies’ ‘must do’ list.
Everyone, it seems, is doing it. The question though, is how can businesses find that innovative spark – and how can they make the most of the opportunities their innovative ideas bring?
According to Gordon Stark, Chief Operations Officer at Glasgow based global intellectual property (IP) attorney firm Murgitroyd, innovation may be as old as time, but it’s never been as fast paced as it is right now: “People think about innovation in different ways, it can be the solution to a problem or something completely new. Think of the impact the iPad has had – something we didn’t know we needed and now can’t imagine being without,” he says.
“Scotland has a huge history of innovation – from steam trains to television and the telephone. What’s different today is how fast an idea can travel around the world and how important it is to protect your intellectual property.”
Today’s innovation often means approaching an issue from a different angle, drawing in fresh thinkers from outside a business arena and pushing technology to create novel solutions.
But whether it’s disrupting an established product, creating a solution to a long standing problem or collaborating with others, innovation starts with careful planning. “First define your innovation goals and how they relate to your company’s strategic priorities. What do you want to achieve from innovation? How does innovation fit into your company?” suggests Gordon.
Businesses also have to lay down the right foundations for innovation, with staff recognition and rewards for successful ideas, and a ‘can do’ culture that seizes ideas that work and quickly ditches those that don’t.
The spark that ignites innovation isn’t as elusive as it sounds either. Competitions, hackathons and challenges – often run by universities or through Scottish Enterprise’s open innovation platform – create inspiring environments to share ideas and thrash out solutions.
Some businesses prefer group innovation workshops drawing on resources like Future Agenda which highlights emerging trends and challenges that need help to solve.
For a broader approach, LEGO’s seriousplay.com website uses LEGO products to facilitate innovation. “Their process is based on trying to recreate the problem that you face in Lego and then create a solution to that in Lego. The solution, although built in Lego bricks, is a metaphor for the real life solution,” adds Gordon. “A further example is Triz – it brings together diverse approaches to a problem to find novel solutions.”
Closer to home, Murgitroyd has launched a new Facebook ‘Innovator Launchpad’ platform for entrepreneurs, with up to a £7500 for UK pre-profit businesses or charities who come up with a groundbreaking solution to a business or social problem.
The rewards can be massive, and rapid. Innovative Scottish tech-based businesses FanDuel and Skyscanner have shaken up online gaming and travel industries to create multi-billion pound businesses with relatively minor costs. Further afield, Uber and Airbnb’s disruptive approach has had a massive impact on travel and tourism.
Such rapid growth proves that protecting intellectual property is vital. “The scalability of companies is huge – take WhatsApp, a multi-billion pound business with just a handful of employees,” adds Gordon. “People can develop an idea and launch it so quickly that businesses need to create barriers to prevent copycats.”
Protecting innovative ideas can also help underpin investment, drive profitability and show customers that a business is forward-thinking and inventive, helping inform investors on potential returns.
It can make financial sense too, from UK Patent Box tax benefits to potential extra revenue from licencing or selling to third parties.
“Companies such as Dyson and L’Oreal reference the number of patents they have in their marketing materials and advertising as a way of sending a message that a company is innovative and progressive.
“At Murgitroyd we work with companies at every stage of the innovation journey, helping them create meaningful, valuable IP, and ensuring that new products and services are protected by the necessary intellectual property.”
To find out more visit https://www.murgitroyd.com/