Too much information for inventors?

May 6th, 2011

With the government recently launching a new initiative to promote and encourage the innovation industry, a sudden wealth of information and literature has begun to emerge in both physical and virtual form to ‘assist’ would-be inventors and entrepreneurs. But are all these sources of information really helpful? For the individual inventor embarking on such a journey, with no prior knowledge of the industry, it is hard to know what is accurate and, more importantly perhaps, which sources can be trusted.

The areas of intellectual property and product design and development can be complicated for the most experienced professionals and the lack of ‘common knowledge’ on such topics makes it difficult for amateurs or beginners to involve and benefit themselves. Consequently, some universities are currently looking to introduce intellectual property units into their courses, such as Business Studies, to develop students’ understanding of the processes involved and the close relationship they have with many aspects of the world around us, particularly the business world. This will in time help the next generation to more comprehensively approach intellectual property and product development, with the hope of economical and commercial reward, but what for our current generation of hopefuls?

The current available literature predominantly takes the form of bookshop ‘guidebooks’ and Internet articles that all claim to ‘explain’ intellectual property, product design and their processes, or at least seek to point beginners in the right direction. These more often than not will comprise ‘top ten’’s or ‘how to’’s which although on the surface seem to simplify ‘the process’, tend to provide very little genuine, and often conflicting, information.

The most important aspect for any inventor is exactly what material can be trusted, as the wrong information concerning intellectual property could potentially jeopardise a project. The predominant issue, in this regard, is sourcing information from the correct geographical constituency in which the same laws apply. An American article on the process of protecting a design, per se, will in no way apply to an English applicant, as the ‘design patent’ process upheld in the USA, and some other countries, is not available in the UK.

So the crucial factor is the source of the information, but perhaps for more reasons than merely their country of residence. It is often said that there is no such thing as a selfless act and that at the very least an act is conducted for self-gratification. This theory is often true of article writing, particularly within a business setting, but predominantly for monetary purposes. At the heart of any informative material you will, almost without any exception, find a company or individual looking to reap the rewards and benefits from the transfer of their knowledge and professional wisdom. With informative books the rewards are obvious: the money they gain per sale. With web-based material the rewards are seemingly less obvious and the content is ironically more valuable – as any ‘in gratis’ information will undoubtedly attract more readers. As such, this material consequently becomes free advertising and a priceless marketing tool for any company.

So the question arises: is this web material genuinely useful advice and information, or just a company’s egotistical self-promotion? The majority of article based information that appears on the internet is purely for the purposes of link building. Although the content may be genuine the purpose is not to selflessly help others but to create material that will assist in search engine optimisation and other such online marketing techniques. This begs the questions as to the validity of the content of each piece. Although articles on intellectual property and product development are presumably based on factual information, it is the tone, context and purpose that are often questionable.

All written material is manipulative, whether intentional or not – some may call it influential – but either way the end result is the same: to make a reader side with the opinion of the author. Taking into account the aforementioned presumption that behind such material is an author employed by a company whose services are directly affiliated with the article’s content, then it becomes almost evident that naturally the tone will be persuasive: to make a reader want to use the services offered by their company. This is conducted in much the same way as copy from a company’s website would be scripted: to manipulate a reader and, in turn, sell themselves. Therefore, such article writing becomes an extension of this and seeks to do nothing more than sell a product, service or other.

To present a fair case, it is reasonable to assume that this may not always be the case and that some articles may be written independently of a company’s marketing strategy. However, in these instances it could be asked how unbiased an article can truly be? It is difficult to convey any advice or information entirely free of any opinion of the author, as each professional is influenced by their own career experiences. An article written by a patent attorney on the same subject as a patent examiner may differ, due to the nature of their roles and the different stand points they may take, as a result.

With these thoughts in mind, it leaves us wondering who exactly a new inventor can turn to for unbiased, genuine advice in moving forward? Government sources may be the answer as they seek to simplify such processes, in order to make innovation accessible by the everyman. In relation to this topic, an institution such as the UK Intellectual Property Office would be a relevant department that provides useful information for upcoming entrepreneurs. However, even these resources seek to gain from providing such information, as no intellectual property application comes without its costs.

It would be difficult to write an article such as this without noting the distinct hint of irony embedded in the content but the purpose is to provoke thought based on my ‘opinion’. Perhaps the answer is to trust instinct and intuition but most importantly to check sources and gather information from a variety of informants before forming an opinion of your own. For the individual inventor, the processes to take a product to market can be challenging enough without being influenced by misleading information along the way. Free advice from professional bodies is invaluable but most importantly, with any new project, what is paramount is to remain open-minded throughout the innovation process.