As part of the Open Innovation movement, many companies now actively solicit technical solutions, products and business ideas from innovators, customers, suppliers, and the broader marketplace of technology providers. Some companies have begun utilizing structured innovation submission programs, typically implemented through their corporate websites. This article, the first in a two-part series, helps companies understand Collaborative vs. Direct Portals, and the importance of IP-anti-contamination and efficient filtering in choosing the best innovation portals for their unique situations.

Young inventor invents technical tool for big company” – that’s a news story to which we all respond. The underdog saves the big company with a great idea. That was the story reported in a recent business article in the New York Times (February 22, 2014), a tale of Mark King, a young 21-year-old community-college dropout, who responded to a call for ideas on a website sponsored by General Mills. King responded to a technology problem posted on the company’s website and invented an organoleptic analyzer — a way to measure the texture of granola bars. King’s side of the story is good reading, but we’re interested in the corporate side of that story – why and how companies like General Mills decided to utilize an idea submission program.

Numerous companies – Unilever, General Mills, Shell, DSM, Mars, GSK, Kraft, Crown Holdings to name just a few — have made structured solution or innovation submission programs a functional part of their Open Innovation practice. Other B2B and B2C firms are now paying attention, trying to decide whether to move in this direction, too.

Figure 1: General Mills solicits novel product and business ideas via its online Portal


In response, an armada of service providers has emerged to help companies design and put such an innovation portal plan into action. Because these programs are still relatively new, it can be challenging to know where to start. has been a service provider in the Open Innovation market since 1999; among technology scouting and other intellectual property services, we provide custom and turnkey Open Innovation Portal Programs to corporate clients. We are happy to take the opportunity to suggest how companies can navigate their way toward an effective idea submission program, one that will be a useful part of product development in an active Open Innovation program.

Collaborative vs. direct innovation portals

Corporations are currently using several different implementation models to accomplish their innovation submission goals. Most structured programs, like that of Unilever, for example, take the form of a dedicated micro-site linked off of the corporate website – called “innovation portals.” Some companies limit their portals simply to encouraging and collecting ideas as they come in. Other companies additionally list their current technology needs, in order to encourage responses to those specific technical challenges. Both Unilever and General Mills, for example, include their own technical challenges. It was to one of the posted challenges in General Mills’ G-Win program that Mark King responded.

Figure 2: Unilever posts specific technical “ challenges and wants” on their submissions portal

Some of the flavor variations on innovation submission programs include crowdsourcing and co-creation models, terms we will expand upon later. divides the innovation submission market into two: Collaborative vs. Direct innovation portals. The various models in current vogue sort themselves into these two large buckets. Deciding whether a direct or collaborative portal implementation is best depends upon cultural fit as well as the intellectual property goals of any specific company.

Collaborative innovation portals are sites in which submitters’ ideas can be seen by everyone – for comments, idea-building, and generating buzz. Collaborative portals can be an excellent tool for engaging and creating a conversation with customers, innovators, and corporate supply chain. They may also be used to help a company tap into customer trends – for example, asking customers (the “crowd”) which color or flavors are most popular, and/or to gather or test variation ideas for existing products (crowd-sourcing). In another variation, collaborative sites may be deliberately designed to enable participants to build on one another’s ideas in the spirit of a virtual team (co-creation). Host companies to crowd-sourcing and co-creation models sometimes offer rewards or prizes for the best solution ideas to specific problems.

Direct innovation portals
, on the other hand, are ones in which technical solutions or ideas are submitted directly — nobody sees a given submission except the company itself (and/or their service agent if they have outsourced their portal management). This is the way Mark King submitted his idea to General Mills. Many other firms choose direct portals, as well, including Mars, Unilever, AB-Inbev, and GSK.

By Emma Hughes

About the author

Emma Hughes, VP & Managing Director, Europe, She has been with yet2 since 2000 and manages the European region, generating new business and delivering on technology exploitation/acquisition licensing and innovation projects for many Global 1000 and SMEs across Europe. Emma has worked on a wide range of IP consulting projects, in biomedical, material sciences and consumer product areas. Work has included technology and technology need identification and evaluation, marketing and target strategy development and furthermore generating and facilitating cross-industry/regional connections for licensing deal activities. Since graduating with a BA Honours degree in the Healthcare field, Emma has gained over 15 years of business and management experience, working in business development, marketing, operations, and contract management positions. Emma utilizes her technology transfer experience and European network to drive technology acquisition and exploitation for yet2’s global clients, facilitating business development through technology transfer.

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