OESA Conference Highlights Need for More Engineering Resources, Importance of Collaboration When Developing New Technologies
The 15th Annual Original Equipment Suppliers Association Outlook Conference, held Nov. 11 in Detroit, highlighted the lack of engineering resources needed to support the drive for new technologies required to compete in the 21st century. General Motors, for instance, has requisitions to hire 500 design release engineers to relieve the stresses their engineers are experiencing. As a former design release engineer at GM, I am quite familiar with that problem.
A number of strategies for developing new technologies in view of the engineering shortage were discussed at the OESA conference, including collaborating with engineering schools, developing training programs, and even revisiting vertical integration—a business model the OEMs and suppliers largely abandoned over the last two decades. The consensus was that improved collaboration and joint development along both spectrums of the supply chain is the only viable option in the short term.
The collaborations discussed at the conference underscored the need to change intellectual property strategy in view of new laws. In 2013, the U.S. became a “first to file country,” meaning the first person to file a patent application will establish rights on the technology. As a result, it is now more important than ever that suppliers establish background technology early and often by making use of the provisional patent application process through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
For the past 200 years, the U.S. operated under a first to invent system: the first to invent a technology had rights in the technology, regardless of who filed an application first. Often, collaborators in the development of new technology fail to contemplate ownership of the technology until after it has been developed. Even worse, OEMs demand ownership of new technology, even if its development was financed by the supplier.
Clarity in ownership of technology can only be achieved through protecting the underlying concepts—by filing patent applications covering new technologies prior to beginning the collaborative development process. The USPTO accepts provisional patent applications, which is a low cost strategy to quickly protect developmental concepts. Once the underlying concepts are protected, a joint development agreement should be negotiated establishing rights in the new technology. Negotiations can be conducted from a position of strength once the background technology has been established by filing provisional patent applications.
Collaborative development projects are presently the best available option to meet the technology demands of the marketplace with limited engineering resources. Establishing a strategy to protect background technology prior to entering a joint development or collaborative effort is imperative to avoid losing technology that can give a business a competitive edge in a high-tech market.