Symbiotic Innovation: Proactive, Concerted Spin-Out and Spin-In

Updated July 2017


***Note: Fuentek president Laura A. Schoppe is presenting a free webinar on how to improve communication and collaboration between an organization’s R&D units and the IP management/technology transfer office. Learn more and register here.***


innovationEven if you’re not a biologist, you probably know that the term symbiotic refers to a mutually beneficial relationship, where the activities of one have a positive impact on the other and vice versa. (Actually, if you are a biologist you’d know that the more precise term is “facultative mutualism,” but symbiotic is less of a tongue-twister.)

So why would I use this term to talk about innovation? Because it is how innovation can—and should—occur in any R&D organization. It doesn’t matter if you’re a company, a university, or a government lab, if you’re investing in technology development, Symbiotic Innovation is the best way to do it.

Bringing Together Spin-Out and Spin-In

Symbiotic Innovation is the proactive and concerted operation of spin-out and spin-in, recognizing that these are interdependent activities.

Spin-out is making your technologies or capabilities or other intellectual property (IP) available to users outside your organization for a financial or even a non-financial reward. Most R&D organizations have offices dedicated to spin-out. They might call it technology management, commercialization, technology transfer, licensing, etc. —dedicated to securing royalty revenue, fees, and even non financial rewards via spin-out.

Spin-in is tapping into external technologies or competencies to accelerate your own R&D. It is often called technology sourcing, in-licensing, or infusion. It can happen as a merger/acquisition or under a work-for-hire contract. In some cases, it takes the form of joint-development collaborations or other partnership-style engagements. Regardless, the goal is to solve a problem faster, better, and/or more cost effectively than working solely with your internal resources.

What’s the Problem?

Too often spin-out and spin-in are viewed as two separate activities. You either have something that others need and spin it out to them, or someone else has what you need so you spin it in so you can use it.

But that’s a short-sighted, myopic view of innovation.

So What Is Symbiotic Innovation?

Symbiotic Innovation recognizes that R&D organizations should not choose between spin-in or spin-out, but they should do both simultaneously.

Symbiotic Innovation recognizes that these activities are interdependent. They inform each other. Each makes the other more successful.

Spin-out asks, “Who needs what I have?” Spin-in asks, “Who has what I need?” Symbiotic Innovation knows that the “who” in both questions is the same.

Open Innovation discussed opening the door to the inflow of external ideas and the outflow of innovations to market via new channels.

Symbiotic Innovation takes the next step of walking through the door, making those inflows and outflows happen proactively and in a concerted manner.

Intrigued? Stick around. I have a lot more to say about this.

Read Laura’s posts on Symbiotic Innovation:

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Posted by Laura Schoppe

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