Is there a limit to open innovation when it comes to maintaining confidentiality, managing R&D or protecting intellectual property?


In 2003, Professor Henry Chesbrough first introduced the concept of open innovation as: 

“a paradigm that assumes that firms should use external ideas as well as internal ideas and paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology”. 

In 2019, companies embraced this vision of innovation, one that doesn’t only rely on a company’s own R&D, but also includes “external ideas”. All kinds of innovation initiatives and successful collaborations have been launched between corporations and partners in their ecosystems (startups, Venture Capital, incubators, labs, other large companies, etc.). 

However, there is still value to unlock, especially in what Chesbrough described as “internal ideas and paths”. Global collaboration seems to be the goal to strive for, but many companies still struggle in defining the right degree of internal openness to adopt. 

Is there a limit to open innovation when it comes to maintaining confidentiality, managing R&D or protecting intellectual property?

Open Internally: An Untapped Goldmine for Corporations

There are some common barriers to opening up innovation, even within your own company. Some are cultural barriers and others are organizational. Here’s a sample of some of the most common ones: 

  • Innovation projects are confidential and should not be disclosed to all colleagues.
  • Opening innovation increases the complexity of managing innovation.
  • Some colleagues are not expected to be innovators in the company.

And yet, there is so much value in the exchange of information. When a corporation fosters a culture of collaboration, the return on investment is phenomenal. Here’s a sample of the most common benefits:

  • Sharing knowledge saves both time and money for all your teams.
  • Colleagues discover each other’s areas of expertise and benefit from them.
  • Decisions are made faster, with more accurate information.
  • Synergies are created between different departments of the corporation.
  • Colleagues have the feeling of contributing to the future of their companies: they are empowered and engaged.

The key to achieving a high level of collaboration is to let innovation flow across the organizational structure of your company. Fostering such a dynamic will result in the emergence of cross-functional teams with dedicated knowledge on specific innovation topics. 

Entering an open innovation era is simply about multiplying internal exchanges within your group.

Method vs. Control: Management of Knowledge is Key

As Chesbrough explained, open innovation “is based on purposefully managed knowledge flows across enterprise boundaries”. In other words, it is crucial to foster the exchange of data, but in an organized and structured way that allows stakeholders to make the most of it.

While closed innovation implied control, open innovation requires a method.

The Golden Rule: Innovation Can Come From Anywhere

In a world of widely distributed information, innovation can come from anywhere. Following this golden rule, corporations successfully included external knowledge to launch innovative initiatives. Today, we encourage you to go one step further and bring your internal resources into play. 

Great opportunities lie in the development of internal connexions. If you let it happen, your company has everything to gain from allowing collaborators to access and share information.

Openness can be a great challenge for companies, but it’s above all a key-value creator. 

Knowing this, you should enter an era of OPEN internal innovation.