I recently read Seth Godin’s Free Prize Inside. The publisher had actually sent me a review copy back in 2004 when I was reviewing books for American Lawyer Media’s Patent Strategy & Management. At the time, I didn’t really give much thought to reading it because I thought of Seth Godin as a marketing guy and I wasn’t all that interested in marketing books. As it turns out, the publisher knew what they were doing when they sent it to me. It is really an innovation book that happens to be by a marketing guru. So, I am a bit late getting to it. My apologies to Seth Godin.
While it is very much an innovation book, the author states in several different places that it is not about patents or that kind of innovation. He positions the book as being about “Soft innovations” that anyone can do in any market. And, he specifically tries to distance such work from difficult technical innovation that you might file patents on. I found this interesting for two reasons. First, even as he was writing it, people were pushing more and more software and business method patents that were pretty “Soft” through the Patent Office and more and more companies were looking for patentable inventions throughout their organizations, not just from R&D teams. Second, the real focus of the book was about championing innovations and getting them taken seriously within an organization, which applies equally regardless of whether there is a patent involved or not. I suspect that the “no patents required” positioning had more to do with being approachable to non-technical innovators (who are a much larger market of readers) than anything to do with patents. This is all a very long way of saying that the book has very useful lessons for patent owners and managers and is worth reading if you are interested in how new projects and innovations can happen in your company.
The bid idea in the book is that historical big bet innovation strategies are not cost-effective. Both big advertising and big R&D are too risky when you figure in how much more money you need to make to really profit from them. Big approaches drive up your expenses, so making money with them is difficult. Small innovations that provide unique customer value are really where it’s at. He then provides interesting frameworks for both championing your innovation and for finding really good ones. Both of these frameworks are well worth the read.
The book is short. Seth Godin is an entertaining writer. I am still mulling over how to use some of the ideas from his frameworks to help organizations gather and assess new ideas for features, products, and patents. If you share my interest in encouraging innovation in your company, I hope you will read the book and share your thoughts on what it means for patent management.
Incidentally, the author defines a “Free Prize” as an innovation that creates revenue far greater than its cost of implementation. Under that definition, what business executive doesn’t want to create more free prizes for their company?