by Mike Masnick

Building For Flexibility Is About Recognizing That Innovation Is An Ongoing Process

from the you're-not-building-a-product,-but-a-process-for-innovation dept

One of the biggest stumbling points in discussing how we believe patents are damaging to innovation is that many people tend to view innovation in different ways. The classical view, as put forth by the "myths" of America's great inventors (who often were neither great nor inventors), is that the product is the end result of innovation. You innovate and you get a product and you're done. However, that's not really how the world works. Innovation is an ongoing process of continually trying to serve a market better. It's competition in the marketplace that drives that innovation, by putting pressure on companies to keep innovating to try to out-innovate competitors to deliver something to the marketplace that meets their needs even better. That's why, when you look at Apple's success, you'll note that the company has done little that's really "new" or "inventive," but has done an amazing job continually innovating to bring technologies invented by others to market in appealing ways.

Dick Costolo, the CEO and founder of Feedburner, has been writing an interesting blog discussing entrepreneurship in general, and a recent post does a great job highlighting how innovation is a process -- and how successful companies intuitively understand that. In his post about "launching late and launching often" (a play on the "release early and often" mantra that many know) he points out that while the basic product that Feedburner first launched seemed simple and easy to copy, they had actually spent many months prior to launching building out the larger framework of what they intended to offer as a company. That way, even if a company came up with an identical offering "in a weekend," Feedburner would still be able to out-innovate them as they went forward, being able to scale and quickly launch new and useful features. That is, Costolo and the Feedburner team recognized that innovation is an ongoing process -- and even if the product itself is easy to copy, the real battle in the marketplace is being able to continually improve on the offering. Building in the flexibility from the start gave Feedburner a real (if not obvious) competitive advantage in recognizing that the product wasn't the endgame, but the ongoing process was. This is a good thing to remember whenever anyone complains that without patents or without government protections, others would immediately copy what you were doing. Feedburner has shown that even if their basic product could have been easily copied, their readiness and ability to out-innovate any imitators meant that it didn't really matter very much.

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