Pulling on the strands of decluttering, Open Source and Crowdsourcing this thought piece considers the challenge of creating an open market for an organisations Intellectual Property (IP). It recalls the challenge of introducing such an initiative at Logica in the months before the business died*. (was acquired by CGI).
According to Richard Watson, Future-in-Residence at the Technology Foresight Practice at Imperial College the main reason that big companies die – beyond being consumed by larger or more aggressive companies – is that they fail to anticipate or react to new technology, new customer demands or competitors with new business models, products and services, all of which are often linked and can cause considerable disruption and disturbance.
Knowing what you’ve got
In late 2011 I was working as part of the innovation team at Logica. I had recently been through the fun and games of moving to a new flat in Düsseldorf. The process had involved all the painful challenges of sorting, sifting, cataloguing, and wrapping all my stuff that was going with me. Being an international move, which didn’t have the luxury of getting your mates to help and the use of a Zipvan, space was at a premium, so some things weren’t going to make the journey.
For all the stuff that didn’t meet the brief in terms of the move, either because it was too old, too bulky or just that it wouldn’t fit in the new place the potentially more painful process came into play. This being the experience of car boot and garage sales to sell off the items that were too valuable to either throw away at the local recycling centre or donate to charity. Yes, it is fair to say, that with the likes of ebay, Gumtree and Nextdoor the opportunity to move stuff on in the secondary market to your local community has been digitised and simplified. The challenge remains that all this activity takes time and an environment and culture where anything with a previous owner is expected to be virtually given away for free there is no real incentives to go through the process.
It is no surprise that according to Zoopla’s research in 2017, the average British homeowner moves home every 23 years. That is a far cry from several decades ago in 1988, when a more buoyant market during the ‘Lawson Boom’ – a time of strong economic growth under the then-Chancellor, Nigel Lawson – saw Britons moving home every 8.63 years.
More than forty years innovation track record
This moving experience was the catalyst to an investigation on what it would take to create the equivalent of a car boot sale for Intellectual Property. This internal project to investigate what we would need to do to open up over 40 years’ worth of IP archives to the wider world and its ecosystem of stakeholders. Logica at that time had a mature innovation partner programme and did recognise the power of the ecosystem.
Logica was founded as a systems integration business in 1969. Early projects included the control system for the United Kingdom’s natural gas grid in 1971 and the design of the SWIFT network for international money transfers in 1973. The company established a rich heritage on innovative projects including working as part of the consortium that brought the forerunner of the Internet to Europe, VTS 100 and VTS 2200 amongst the first word processors to achieve mass sales, developed the automated clearing system for the UK banks (CHAPS) as well as the customer service system for British Telecom. The firm also pioneered the automated ticketing system for London Underground in 1987 and a new version of the system which randomly generates Premium Bond numbers (ERNIE) in 1988. Not to mention working as part of the team that created SMS as well as developing the software for Beagle 2 probe of Mars. It is important to note that in many cases within the system integration businesses much of the IP is owned by the commissioning client, that said over 40 plus years a business will build up a substantial archive of IP of its own.
Treasure Hunting like Indiana Jones
Before one could kick off the processes of sorting, sifting, cataloguing and prioritisation the first challenge was working out what the business had in terms of IP and where it was. This wasn’t as straightforward as firing up the asset register and then deciding which stuff to put behind a web login. The history of Logica had also entailed numerous multi country acquisitions and mergers along the way across. The reality was that the IP was quiet possibly stored in Iron Mountain storage boxes in railway tunnels in odd parts of the country. I can remember it being likened to treasure hunting and the end scene in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. It wasn’t just a case of tracking down neat containers of code as the IP had accumulated in a range of different formats, from paper and 8, 5.25, and 3.5-inch floppy disks to and external hard disks. One the challenges of project based business is having the time and space to close out all the internal and non-client critical parts of the engagement before being assigned to the next project. Giving yourself the time and space to codify, tag and archive your IP is worth it in the long run.
Another way of describing this IP investigation process was that of a spring clean and decluttering of the company’s IP. Fellow Future Shaper Brett Templeton explored Decluttering – what does it mean for your brand and innovation? in his thought piece back in November 2016. In it he calls out the success of Marie Kondo a Japanese organising consultant and author. She encourages readers to do a total audit of belongings; you should keep only items that spark joy. Kondo has gone on to create a popular Netflix show that continues to champion the doctrine of less is more.
Value to the wider ecosystem
The vision to create an IP exchange that the Logica ecosystem could explore and re-use if they found anything of value. In terms of any IP generated when collaborating with clients and partners, the plan was to take as pragmatic approach as possible to the management and monetisation of IP. Any background IP (historic) would be documented and clearly owned by the party bringing it to the table. For any foreground IP (newly created) generated as part of the collaboration, we suggested a model where this was automatically owned by the party bringing the background IP to the table, although a perpetual license was granted to the other parties. The plan was to allow for clear ownership of any IP, but also enable other parties to gain a financial benefit for the collaboration. The main caveats were envisioned to be that if some did find value they would cite the origins of the source and if the commercial success of the direct use of the IP translated into something significant, the entity would recognise this by passing back some of the reward.
Seven years ago, this idea of opening up of the Logica IP catalogue was seen as fairly disruptive mashup of the original open source approach, open innovation and crowdsourcing. At the time IBM and Oracle were dabbling in similar concepts by donating some of their patents to the open source advocacy group Free Software Foundation. These was hardly philanthropic as the income generated through providing advisory services related to open source more than made up for the lost revenue through licensing proprietary software. The move also resulted in new innovations and new products as well as greatly enhancing the reputation for IBM within the software programming community. The Big Innovation Centre’s Intellectual Property Exchange , Github and IBM Developer are interpretations of IP exchange that have come to life over the intervening years.
Don’t look back in anger
The Logica’s initiative didn’t get past the internal business case phase. The estimated time and effort to actually go and identify and catalogue the IP was felt at the time to be too much and too costly as this wasn’t something that had been a focus over the years. It was also felt that there would be more time to change direction and come back to it. Later in that year Logica was acquired by CGI.
Whilst hindsight is 20/20 and things become obvious with the luxury of time. I firmly believe that the opening up of Logica IP archive to its growing ecosystem of start-ups, researchers and partners across the world would have unearthed hidden gems of phenomenal value that may have just led to a different story to the one we read today. In 2017, the average age of a S&P 500 company was only 15 years, and for companies to remain healthy and grow old, they need to remain young at heart. They need to remain mentally agile, constantly learn new things and question their own identity and reason for being. Part of that will be their control and management of IP in open and innovative ways.
As innovators, change makers and upstarters, we are asking you, our crowd, to take a look at our challenges page. This is a new addition to our Future Shapers Platform where we give a shout out to our partners Open Innovation asks.