Nokia to Give Away Ideas and Innovations

By Collins, Luke | Research-Technology Management, September-October 2009 | Go to article overview

Nokia to Give Away Ideas and Innovations


Collins, Luke, Research-Technology Management


Nokia has decided to give away some of its unused ideas and innovations in a bid to see whether other companies can make worthwhile businesses out of them.

The Finnish telecommunications giant (www.nokia.com) will give away innovations in areas such as environmental and energy-related solutions, location-based services and advertising, near-field communication, mobile security, healthcare, and future Internet services, among others.

Nokia will work with Tekes, the government's innovation funding agency (www.tekes.fi/eng); Technopolis, a national chain of science parks (www.technopolis.fi); and several Finnish cities to comb through "thousands" of ideas to extract 100 of the most promising. The team, known as the Nokia Technopolis Innovation Mill, will then try to match each idea to a company that it believes could make good use of it.

Funding of up to $11.11 million (8 million [euro]) for the three-year scheme, including up to $6.27 million (4.5 million [euro]) of public money, will come from Tekes, six municipalities that each host at least one Technopolis facility, and the companies themselves. Technopolis will coordinate the initiative and provide business development services.

In part, the move is a response to the financial crisis, which has seen Nokia and other high-technology companies in Finland shed jobs.

"Speeding up the economy calls for a new degree of openness," said Esko Aho, executive vice president, corporate relations and responsibility at Nokia. "We hope that the Nokia Technopolis Innovation Mill sets an example that companies across other sectors will follow." Aho is a former prime minister of Finland who was deeply involved in developing the country's innovation capacity as a response to a financial crisis in the early 1990s. He has since led various efforts to make Finland and Europe more competitive by increasing innovation.

"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," Aho added.

Keith Silverang, CEO of Technopolis, said: "We have 1,200 customers as tenants on one or more of our campuses in Finland and St. Petersburg, Russia, as well 200 virtual clients for our business development services. We have enough critical mass in our existing client base to generate great cases but this is an open program so any company can apply, with one catch: because the program is funded by taxpayers and by six Finnish municipalities they'll want a domestic element. International organizations would have to engage through a subsidiary here that does product development."

Paybacks for Nokia

What's in it for Nokia? There are two potential paybacks for the company.

The first comes if Nokia can get some of its unused ideas taken up externally, so that someone else makes a return. Because the ideas were developed within the context of Nokia's business, if third parties can make them work commercially then the company may be able to make money by providing supporting products or services. The second is the public relations value for the company at a challenging time for the global economy.

Nokia is also an extremely important company in the Finnish economy, so if it can release ideas that others can capitalize upon, it helps stimulate the Finnish economy.

Martti af Heurlin, deputy director general of Tekes, the funding agency, emphasized Nokia's place in Finland's innovation ecosystem: "Nokia's role in Finland is really important. One-third of innovation investment in Finland comes from Nokia, one-third from the public sector and one-third from other companies," he said.

According to Silverang, Nokia will give away its IP but maintain a parallel right to use it. He agrees that the program has excellent PR value, but feels there is more to it than that. "What they get out of it is a 'good citizenship' coin, because they're downsizing at the moment. …

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