Nokia's embarrassment of riches

13 May 2009 | News
Nokia is to give away some of its intellectual property for free, in a scheme set up to recycle unused ideas and innovations to other Finnish companies.

Nokia is to give away its surplus intellectual property free of charge, in a scheme set up to recycle unused ideas and innovations to other Finnish companies for further development and exploitation.

The initiative has been masterminded by Technopolis, a privately-owned company that owns science parks around the country, with backing from the national innovation funding body Tekes and seven city councils. Companies picking up IP will also get funding for its further development.

The IP on offer ranges all the way from very simple commercial ideas to patented inventions, Keith Silverang, CEO of Technopolis, told Science|Business. “It’s all very well documented.” Only a fraction of the ideas and concepts generated by in-house R&D make it to market in Nokia products, and over the years the company has shelved thousands of potentially successful innovations.

The process of selecting IP that is suitable for development involves experts from Technopolis sitting down with people from Nokia to scan, screen and evaluate the portfolio. “We will whittle the ideas down to the most promising and then analyse our portfolio of client companies to look for matches with an “adoptee” company,” Silverang said, adding, “Match-making is most essential – getting the right people and ideas together is critical.”

The three-year project, called the Nokia Technopolis Innovation Mill, will select around 100 projects to be matched with the companies that demonstrate the best ability to exploit them.

Technopolis has 1,200 high tech companies based in its science parks, ranging from large, established businesses to start-ups. Silverang said there has been interest from some in adopting surplus Nokia IP, but he expects two thirds of the deals to be a result of Technopolis finding a match and pushing projects out.

“Nokia will surrender rights free of charge once a company is selected and approved. The [adopting] company then gets R&D funding from Tekes and the cities,” said Silverang. In all, €4.5 million of public funding will be available under the scheme. Companies accepting IP have to match the public money they receive with resources for the further development of the project. Nokia retains the right to adopt any technology that is patented after further development.

Silverang said Technopolis first had the idea for this open innovation scheme over two years ago, and has devoted considerable effort to get all parties on board. However, since former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho joined the board of Nokia in August 2008, he has promoted the Innovation Mill. “Aho’s a big celebrity in innovation, and it certainly helped us to get traction,” said Silverang.

Aho said Nokia’s philosophy is to support the birth and growth of high-tech Finnish companies that aim to build internationally competitive businesses. “As we will not take all of the innovations generated by our R&D into production, we are happy to give other competent companies the opportunity to turn these innovations into success stories.”

Aho added, “We hope that the Nokia Technopolis Innovation Mill sets an example that companies across other sectors will follow. The current economic climate is just right for a critical evaluation of intellectual property portfolios and the release of innovations that are more suitable for others to exploit.”

The intellectual property released by Nokia is in fields including environment- and energy-saving, location-based services and mobile advertising, near-field communication, mobile security, healthcare applications and future internet services.

Technopolis will receive a small fee for each project it spins out. But more importantly from the company’s point of view, the Innovation Mill will increase its market. “We want to grow the innovation ecosystem, so existing companies take more space and there are more start-ups. That’s how we will get the money back on our investment,” said Silverang.

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