Developing an effective patent recognition program that celebrates everyone involved with the patent is a great way to build morale and promote innovative thinking, resulting in more successful patents.
Each employee in your organization should be expected to (and invited to) put their best ideas forward. In fact, it is important to create a culture that encourages ideas. Set aside a portion of meetings to allow for free thought and idea flow. Avoid judgment to ensure that everyone feels able to contribute.
When designing your patent awards program, you must first determine the methods you’ll use to celebrate these milestones. For example, rewards can be:
- Monetary, or
- Tangible gifts, such as desktop awards, or
- Public events, like a party or open house, or
- Any combination of the three.
No matter what programs or perks you set up, it’s critical that your employees know and understand what to expect as they embark on the design and development process. In addition, support staff must be aware of the possible rewards they could be entitled to under your recognition program.
Lay the Groundwork
If monetary compensation will be part of the patent award process, make sure to define this before you hire a new designer or engineer. You should prepare formal notification for your new hire of what they can expect as a named patent contributor, and of what your company will retain once this award is given.
In fact, make sure to refresh this award agreement during annual review season. Misunderstandings about compensations can result in hard feelings and resentment and may even cost you valuable employees. If there are miscommunications about this issue, you may lose team trust and miss out on great ideas during design and development meetings. Be sure to clarify the agreement up front and in writing.
Make sure that your employees are aware that contributors to an invention will need to be reviewed before compensation can be issued. You want your employees to be well-versed and able to speak about the invention, particularly if they are to be named on the patent.
Timing the Compensation
Many employers offer staggered compensation for new patents. For example, in each of the following steps, an employer may choose to both celebrate and compensate the employees involved:
- The part is reviewed by senior management and deemed patentable
- The patent is submitted
- The patent is approved
Of course, the process of creating new products is quite involved, and the patent process further extends this timeline. Leadership must determine how to compensate employees who
- Leave the organization voluntarily, by quitting or retiring
- Move up in the organization, or get promoted to another department
- Are forced to leave the organization due to illness or forced retirement
When developing your patent recognition program, compensation is probably the most delicate issue you will have to handle. While exciting to think that your new creators and inventors will never want to leave, move to another city, or start their own business, this is highly unlikely.
Whatever your determination is in terms of a compensation cut-off, make sure that this plan is approved via an attorney and encourage every new-hires to have the document reviewed by their own attorney. New employees will feel safer putting all of their creative forces to work for your organization if they know exactly how and when they’ll be compensated.
Of course, your organization’s leadership team will want the option to offer awards to any employee that goes that extra mile.
Make Space for Discretionary Awards
The boss is the boss, so if they want to make room for a discretionary award, set this up as a private bonus option when giving out corporate patent awards. Not everyone who contributes to the patent process is a designer. Support staff can be incredibly useful to company designers and engineers, freeing up time and space for visionary workers and thinkers to create.
Many awards can be given to let employees know that their contributions are both noted and appreciated. Anything from a cash bonus to a public award can be used to reward an employee’s contribution. Additionally, don’t forget to give some time off for a great contribution!
If there are policies in place that forbid giving cash bonuses to a member of support staff, leaders can find creative ways around this. A travel gift is a simple non-cash bonus that is loaded with value. This award, paired with time off, is an excellent option if cash giving is not possible. Stay flexible and let the employee determine their time off and destination.
Leaders should obviously have the right to reward contributing employees who go above and beyond to help the design team achieve more. The choice of how to present these awards will also require some review.
Know Your Employees
When planning a patent celebration, make sure to choose an award type and presentation style that will work for particular employees. Not everyone is excited to receive their patent involvement awards in front of a large crowd. In fact, this type of event can cause anxiety for many employees!
Everyone has their own work personality and gift-receiving preferences. There are many simple surveys and quizzes you can administer to determine how your employees prefer to be rewarded.
A new employee has enough to deal with during the onboarding process, and you may not get an accurate read of their appreciation preferences at this time. Consider administering an appreciation quiz to make sure that you’re actually celebrating, rather than punishing, your employees.
Top Down Awards
In an effort to appear fair, leaders must keep things as consistent as possible. Although this can make it difficult to customize an awards presentation, you can still individualize custom patent awards to ensure that every member of the patent team receives meaningful recognition.
Tangible rewards from leadership can be handed out during public ceremonies or during company meetings, per your employees’ gifting style preferences. Again, the company can work hierarchically. Celebrating individual staff with individual patent desktop awards, rewarding the entire department with patent plaques, and promoting the entire organization with new notices on the patent wall of success is a great way to involve the whole organization in the party.
Leaders in your organization may feel a bit constrained if they are not able to go above and beyond to reward an employee who put Herculean effort into a patent creation. Thus, leaders can increase the award by thoroughly studying and understanding the employee’s preferred reward style.
For example, if an employee would prefer paid time off after the patent is received, leaders can help them find a time to get away and perhaps add a private vacation allowance compensation to be used while the employee is away. This is a great way to reward your employees and offer them a valuable break.
Do a Little Detective Work
Before determining which team members will be recognized and compensated, it’s important to understand what everyone’s contribution actually was. You’ll need to do a bit of snooping by reviewing meeting minutes and engineer’s notes.
If you’re handing out cash compensation to every member of an engineering team is fairly simple. However, depending on the department size and number of employees, this can be cost prohibitive.
Not everyone is an inventor. If there’s a member on the patent team that will be recognized who wasn’t at the design or development meetings, you may need to interview that person to confirm that their award is valid and well-deserved.
Should you find that this person is not well-versed or aware of the newly patented or patent pending product, their inclusion in the group should be reconsidered. Yes, employees may want to include everyone in the award loop, but leadership must be fair and hand out awards to those who were truly involved.
If leadership needs to omit someone from the patent award loop, the entire team should be notified about why. This won’t be easy, but being up front about this decision will ultimately produce better involvement and may spur greater collaboration between all members of the design and development team.
When making this notification, you can make it clear that inventors with traceable involvement will be rewarded consistently for their participation. It’s also critical to notify those who will be omitted from compensation why they won’t receive their additional cash and how to ensure they are on the compensation list in the future.
Peer to Peer Awards
When determining the best patent recognition options, don’t forget to make space (and budget) for peer-to-peer recognition. Some employees at your firm may offer tremendous benefits to their fellow employees but may never get to be a part of the patent team.
Encourage leaders on design and development teams to consider small personal gifts such as acrylic patent awards or patent trophies for helpful staff outside the engineering department. These can be given privately from one employee to another or with a simple note from management.
These awards can be given to your implementation team, support staff, and even the paralegals and attorneys who work directly with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Great ideas often go nowhere without great implementation people, so keep them in the award loop and celebrate!
Everyone works better with a bit of appreciation. Further, making room in the budget for these type of awards can reduce isolation and separation that can sometimes build up between engineering and the rest of your organization.
Individual Award Options
No matter who’s giving the award, there are many terrific display options to visually and tangibly reward individuals. Again, this is a great opportunity to customize your rewards.
You will have some employees who like to spread out in their workspace and need every inch of desk or table top space for their work. In this case, wall-mounted inventor plaques are a great option. You can celebrate this person without getting in their way, and everyone visiting their space will get to see their award!
For those who like everything to be in a particular place, or who have a work space that’s visible to the public, awards such as patent cubes can remind that person of their value to the organization and be a great conversation starter when clients or potential customers enter your facility.
Make a Splash in Public!
When designing your patent award program management system, be sure to prepare for patent displays that will draw visitor eyes. You can create a modular patent wall-of-fame that not only displays your company patents but makes it clear that you’ve got more coming.
For example, you can display your certificates on a modular rail system that makes it possible to move patent award frames down the row as new patents are added. Framed patent certificates are mounted and mobile. This display will travel down the wall, so you can use an entire hall to display your patent wall of fame. Your business is growing, so celebrate and promote this expansion!
If you’re just starting out, have only collected a few patents, or if space is simply limited at the moment, you can display your patent awards in a smaller matrix display frame. This frame is just over 24” wide and 54″ tall. You can fill it with up to 80 small display plaques. When the 81st patent arrives, add another matrix!
Finally, consider requesting a customized patent display layout. Each and every organization is different and includes multiple contributors. In fact, you can build a display loaded with both small magnetic display plaques and large framed certificates.
Public Vs. Private Celebrations
Obviously, if you’ve got patents, you’re sitting on proprietary information as an organization. The details of your awards must stay protected when presented to the public.
At the employee celebration, take care to be open. When presenting awards, offer data on the time commitment and extra workload this patent award required. Information that goes out with a press release may only include a photo of your employees with their personal awards, but sharing information about the entire product development and patent process is critical, particularly if engineering and design are a separate unit of your organization.
Go for Good Press
Your marketing team will no doubt generate a press release when your new patent is awarded, but be sure to also get plenty of photos and video from the patent open house or party.
No matter how secretive or proprietary your company’s output may be, it has a public face. Recruiters and potential employees will make note of your successes and celebrations, so make sure to document and promote the results of these events.
Seeing happy employees celebrating and being rewarded for patent work is a great way to draw in other inventive, knowledgeable employees. This imagery can be used to recruit new employees and can easily add interest to your website or company newsletters.
Celebrate Patent Renewals
Your existing patents will need to be renewed regularly to keep your proprietary information safe. When it comes time to renew, celebrate this event!
When possible, include the named people on the patent. This is a great time to bring in former employees that are in good standing to remind them of your appreciation. Retired employees may enjoy an invitation to visit, and employees who’ve moved on may want to reconsider.
Inventive talent is hard to come by and can be a challenge to retain. By celebrating patent renewals, you can keep the doors of communication open with former employees and perhaps win them back.
What if a Patent Isn’t Going to Be Renewed?
If the product covered by a patent is no longer profitable or marketable, the best business decision is to let it drop. However, this may be a good time to review the product and connect with your design team.
Generating a replacement product for the dropped item could become a new goal for your engineering or development team. Of course, any remaining employees involved in the patenting of the obsolete item should be involved in any new development meetings and ultimate decisions.
This senior employee could use the new creation project to involve any apprentices or interns in the creation process. Of course, once the new patent has been applied for and approved, all members of this team should be celebrated and compensated per the terms of their hiring agreement.
By building on the technologies (and expertise) of obsolete inventions, you help the next generation of creative employees learn the frustrations of patent seeking and help your senior employees share their expertise.
Have Some Fun!
Patents are serious business and a lot of hard work, but be sure to have some fun with the award process. For example, if part of your patent compensation plan includes time off, invest in a patent trophy you can use as a stand-in for an employee taking a well-deserved day away from the office.
This trophy can roam the office, letting everyone know that the missing employee is celebrating their reward day away from their desk! If the employee is headed for the beach, deliver the trophy with some gag gifts, such as sunblock or a straw hat. Skiers would appreciate earmuffs and some chapstick. Someone headed out for a cruise might enjoy a good book or a sleeping mask. If no members of the leadership team have time to find the right silly gift, connect with one of the party people in the office and hand the task over to them.
This silly trophy and any small gifts included will brighten up your traveling employee’s day and give other employees the courage to put their ideas forward.
Play with Patent Pending
Once the patent is submitted and is pending, find a spot to put up a temporary display of the submission process. As milestones occur, or if the legal team has to host additional communication or send additional documents, make sure to display these steps.
There are many steps to getting your patent approved, so why not celebrate the process and the people who move patents forward?
If you have multiple patents pending, consider creating a displayed timeline that gives everyone a heads-up about what the patent is for, who’s on the team and when the submission was made. Should one name come up repeatedly, you now have information you can act on.
First of all, this person should be celebrated! Secondly, are there members of your team that aren’t comfortable putting forward their ideas? You may need to alter the style and order of creative meetings to give everyone a say.
What are your next steps?
Your organization is an innovative, inventive place, loaded with great thinkers and dedicated implementation professionals. To effectively support them and celebrate their successes, work with a great patent award professional organization.
By putting together a consistent and effective patent recognition program, you can celebrate your company’s newest inventions while encouraging all of your employees to bring their best ideas forward for your next success.