Ideas Are Easy... Execution Is Difficult

from the so-why-do-we-protect-the-ideas? dept

It's an ongoing theme around here, but ideas are everywhere. The real trick to making something great often has extremely little to do with the idea, and much more to do with the execution. That's where the real innovation occurs -- in taking an idea and trying to figure out how to make it useful. It's that process that's important, much more than the original idea. As nearly anyone who has brought a product from conception to market will tell you, what eventually succeeds in the market is almost always radically different than the original "idea." That's part of the reason why patents are so often harmful to innovation. The patent is for that core idea, which is rarely the key in making something successful. But by limiting who can innovate off of the idea (or just by making it much more expensive) you're limiting that process of innovation.

Some people disagree with this, but the failure of Cambrian House, once again seems to demonstrate the vast gap between ideas and execution. Cambrian House was a well-hyped company that tried to "crowdsource" new companies and products. I've paid attention to them for a while, since their business model had some similarities to what we do with the Techdirt Insight Community. However, as the founder of Cambrian House admitted in explaining the company's changing plans, it wasn't difficult to get people to come up with all sorts of interesting and exciting ideas -- but where the company failed was in getting anyone to actually execute on any of those ideas. Ideas are a starting point -- but it's high time that we stopped worshipping the idea, and started recognizing how much more important execution is in driving innovation.

Filed Under: execution, ideas, innovation
Companies: cambrian house

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  1. identicon
    mjr1007, 19 May 2008 @ 4:10pm

    Real discussion

    Now that things have quited down it might be a good time to actually discuss the topic. There are clearly things we agree on.

    Generating product ideas is actually pretty easy and usually not worthy of patent protection.
    Implementation is much harder then just coming up with a product idea.
    The changes to the product that occur during the product development cycle are not usual patentable.

    The problem that's been demonstrated here is that people seem to think that is all patents are about, typical non-patentable product ideas. It's unfortunate that the system has been turned into that. Clearly this is not promoting progress in science and the useful arts.

    There were examples given here which fall into that category, as did most of the Cambrian House ideas, at least the ones I saw.

    If we pursue the idea of implementation being hard then it would seem clearly that novel ways of implementing things would be even harder. Rather then have people hide this under trade secret the framers of the Constitution sought a way to let both the inventor and the public benefit from making the invention widely know. Smiths writing, from around that time, talked about the problems with monopolies. Granting limited time monopolies may have worked at that time but in today's technology driven world it really doesn't make much sense.

    The suggestion has been made often that corporations should just do the Basic Research. This is contradicted by the facts. Companies are getting out of the Basic Research business. The drug companies give us a preview of what that would look like. First, it's been widely reported that they spend more money on advertising then research. Which makes their whining about the cost of research difficult to take. Second, look at the type of drugs they come out with. They spend more on research for lifestyle drugs like ED drugs, then on life saving drugs. Corporations by their nature do not serve their customers, they are in the business to make money, lots of it. The CEO has a fiduciary responsibility to do just that. How long do you think a CEO would last if he went to the board of directors and said, well we lost money this year but we really serviced our customers. Think about that the next time you hear some say “companies will do the research”.

    It's clear products companies really don't want to do the research, they just want to make money. Individual inventors, on the other hand, particularly successful ones, are often motivated by things other then just money. You want people to invent because it's who they are and what they do. You don't want some Pointed Hair Bossed (the PHB from Dilbert) deciding what is and is not worth pursing.

    So where does this leave us. If we drop the patent system all together, as some here have suggested, then trade secrets will become the prevailing IP law and the public will be worse off. There will be less innovation and our country would fall behind.

    If you look at the criminal justice system it has more problems then the patent system. Half the men on death row in Illinois were proved innocent by DNA evidence. The death penalty is the harshest sentence a court can hand down, when half of them are provably wrong it's not really a stretch to say the system is broken. It would make as much sense to say that the criminal just system is failing and we'll just let the market take care of that whole justice thing, as it would to eliminate the patent system. The point here obviously is to fix the damn thing.

    How do we do this. Well first we have to look at where the current systems is broken. The major problems seem to be:

    Bad patents (obvious or overly broad patents or both)
    Patent trolls who take advantage of bad patents
    Patent thicket (when there are so many patents in a single area that no one can produce a product)
    Companies not licensing legitimate IP on the hopes of dragging it out in court.
    Having lawyers, judges and juries of non-technology people, decide about technology.

    The second to last problem is One that I've never seen written about here. The classic case is Robert Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper. The last one is also one that has been touched on here but not that much. It just seems silly to ask all of these people, who couldn't design a product if their lives depended on it, let alone come up with real progress in the useful arts and sciences, to decide what is and is not real progress. The other problems have been talked to death here and need no further comment.

    So the question becomes how do we promote the progress of science and the useful arts and avoid all of these problems. Before people say just drop the patent system think of the PHB deciding what to research and the likelihood that most companies would just start using trade secret protection.

    My favorite solution is compulsory licensing with a flat percentage (say 10%) for all of the patents needed to produce a product. Let the engineers who actually develop the products allocate which patents where used and to what degree. There would, of course, have to be some type of review board for inventors to appeal to. It should be made up of developers in the field, rather then lawyers, judges and juries. Let review how this solution will effect all of the design criteria.

    There was an article here recently on cell phone makers pooling patents. When groups of companies do it, there is less chance of success then if the government mandates it, put it show where companies think things are headed.

    Rewarding inventors with licensing fees will encourage them to invent more.
    Bad patents will just not be used.
    The appeals process will no longer be a legal action, so it gets rid of the lawyers.
    Since all patents are under compulsory licensing, any company could use any and all necessary patents
    Since the licensing is automatic, there is no issue about paying the fees.
    People knowledgeable in the field would be making the decisions, so they would be base on facts. Engineers are notorious for not being wanted by lawyers because they are not swayed by the lawyers simple emotional arguments.

    How the discussion should go from here. If you think that some of these problems are not really problems, say so and then support it with evidence and reason, not just opinion. If you think there are even more problems, state what you think they are an support it with evidence and reason. If you think there are better approaches then state them and go through the criteria and show how it solves all of the problems.

    It would be very nice to have a reasoned and insightful discussion on this topic.

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