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Renesas gets 'pro-active' with new patent program

Posted: 06 Apr 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Renesas patent program? intellectual property? R&D?

Renesas Technology Corp. is implementing a cross-functional program to align its work in patents with its R&D units and overall business goals. If successful, the program could generate dozens of new patents it could assert with potential competitors and partners.

The program started about five months ago and involves a total of more than 40 engineers, sales people, licensing execs and managers from each of the company's business units. It has already generated more than 20 ideas for enforceable patents tied to what the company sees as its key technologies.

"Frankly speaking, we still we don't know if these ideas will be valuable in the future, but the chances are better than average since the ideas are focused on key technologies," said Hiro Seki, general manager of Renesas' IP division who conceived the program. "But I think it's very important for intellectual property people to have a voice in R&D and business decisions," he added.

Seki started his effort by convincing business unit managers of the strategic importance of creating enforceable patents in areas where the company wanted to grow its business. The patents would define component technologies and how they are used in systems in ways that help cement relationships with future partners and protect turf from future competitors, he said.

He asked each business unit manager to pick one key technology that could be the focus of such efforts in his division. He also asked them to suggest people from his division who could be on 10-20 person working groups to brainstorm ideas around the technologies.

"We can't just wait for inventions and patents to come from R&D, we need to be pro-active," said Seki in a talk at the Intellectual Property Symposium. "Patents should be used to expand the company and be in line with its business strategy and goals," he added.

An original set of four working groups has now divided into about ten subgroups meeting twice a month. About six of the groups have been very active, already generating about 20 new ideas for enforceable patents. The program could create as many as 70 new ideas before it is finished in about two months.

Renesas plans a full review of the program in about three months and a second round of the work is already in the planning stage.

Seki said he has learned several lessons so far. It is important to find the right mix of powerful leaders and creative people who encourage open thinking in the working groupseven if they are sometimes members already very busy with other projects. It is also important when picking key technologies to strike the right balance of something specific yet future-oriented.

"It was very difficult to select key technologies because people thought everything was key, and they sometimes picked things that were too vague or big," he said.

Seki started his career as a patent engineer in Hitachi Ltd in 1984. He worked in the company's Tokyo and Washington D.C. offices before joining Renesas in 2004 as its head of intellectual property.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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