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Title: Dynamic IP strategies for design-led start-ups
Author: Hillner, Matthias
ISNI:       0000 0004 7967 5974
Awarding Body: Royal College of Art
Current Institution: Royal College of Art
Date of Award: 2019
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Design can be defined in many ways, all of which suggest that design solutions involve creative thought that nourishes the generation of ideas. Ideas constitute knowledge assets that are not protected through intellectual property rights (IPR). The latter are legally defined rights related to the solution that uses ideas. Traditionally designers work upon commission, thus relying on consultancy business models. The intellectual property that is generated in response to commissions is commonly licensed or assigned to the client and related to bespoke design solutions. The designer-entrepreneur uses a different approach. The motivation behind 'an entrepreneurial act' is 'the identification of an emerging need or a new way to meet an existing need' (Abernathy and Utterback, 1978, p.4). Such innovations are often fostered and commercialised independently by small businesses instead of being commissioned. Abernathy and Utterback argue that 'the small entrepreneurial organization and the larger unit producing standard products in high volumes [...] are at the opposite ends of a spectrum' (Abernathy and Utterback, 1978, p.3). Consequently, this thesis focuses on individuals and small start-ups who seek to develop and market inventive design propositions that have a potentially disruptive market impact. It examines the significance and effectiveness of intellectual property (IP) in conjunction with the inventors' ambitions to establish dominant designs within existing or emerging market environments. IP is understood here as formal and informal intellectual property rights (IPRs), as well as alternative ways of safeguarding knowledge, such as secrecy and open innovation options which can be used to secure freedom to operate. This study examines IP in relation to other business development factors such as finance and fundraising, access to complementary assets (Teece, 1986), as well as market access strategies. It uses a pragmatic approach, combining qualitative Grounded Theory analysis of data obtained through case studies with the analysis of a mixed-method survey into design right infringement. The thesis, which focuses first and foremost on product innovation, juxtaposes technology-led approaches which build on the use of patents, with design-driven approaches (Verganti, Dell'Era, 2014) which use design rights or no IP, and first-mover, i.e. a sales-driven approaches. The thesis presented here argues that an IP strategy can be seen as an aspect of business development involving a range of factors including formal and informal forms of IP, licensing and collaboration, and that these need to be managed in combination, and as a process which involves the strategy's periodic revision in light of changing circumstances. This implies that well-managed IP strategies can enhance the dynamic capabilities (Teece, Pisano, Shuen, 1997) of businesses, i.e. the range and flexibility of possible responses to potentially unexpected changes in the market environment and in their financial position. The thesis produces a business development flowchart which can be used by designer-entrepreneurs to categorise and illustrate relevant business development factors as well as the dependencies between those. IP strategies are embedded in this chart and can therefore be managed in relation to surrounding business development factors such as complementary assets, market relations, and financial circumstances.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: W280 Interactive and Electronic Design