Does Speed Trump Intellectual Property?
Speed can enhance product development and innovation, but speed can also be used effectively by fast imitators to both save design costs and preempt market share.
This month's column, in the eyes of several respondents, represents the struggle of competitive strategies based on process versus product. When seen in this light, the triumph of speed over ideas, which many see as a reality, is not necessarily onerous. And it doesn't, in the opinion of respondents, warrant additional regulatory intervention.
Paula Thornton asks, "Does it [the loss of intellectual property to rapid responders] really matter? ... In many cases IP is overutilized as a crutch (or as nail to those bearing hammers)." David Sherr recalls, "Lester Thurow introduced the idea of IP as not sustainable as a competitive advantage ... . It is knowledge that allows speed to trump IP."
As E. Hassen put it, "Intellectual property is not just about product but process as well. Speed is an integral part of process ... 'I thought of it first' is hardly a compelling argument ... . The bottom line: Speed is good for intellectual property." According to B. V. Krishnamurthy, "Of all the resources available to humankind, there is one which is given in equal measure to everyone ... . That resource is time ... using time better than others represents a capability which is difficult to replicate."
Several did suggest potential problems, however, in using speed to preempt the fruits of intellectual property. John Rudd comments, "The practice mentioned by Fox (television network) appears prima facia to be, at worst, plagiarism, and at best, opportunism." The long-term effects of strategies based solely on such practices appeared to some to be potentially counter-productive for their users. Sharika Kaul typified this view when she asked, "How many times can you copy? ... A copycat company ... is only hurting itself in the end by showing employees that it is okay to cheat."
Sairam Inumella asserts, "New legislation is not a solution to this 'problem' ... . Maybe this copycat competition will help the networks move toward strategies that play to their unique strengths, and maybe in the end this will create more interesting program choices for audiences." Azeem suggests a more appropriate response, saying, "Speed can trump IP, especially in technology industries. In the time it takes to secure a patent, you ought to have rendered your technology redundant."
Judging from the tone of these responses, is the value of intellectual property in all but a few instances or industries vastly overrated? Is the appropriate response to this dilemma to rethink processes to achieve speed as both a defense and an offense against competitors in the race to develop knowledge as opposed to placing too much emphasis on patent protection? Are government regulations protecting intellectual property applied far too broadly these days? Should they be limited to certain industries, products, or processes where they can be judged essential to innovation? What do you think?
With the advent of the fall television season, replete with new reality TV shows, producers are presenting us with an interesting case example of speed as a competitive strategy. One specific case in point is that of the Fox Network's recent efforts to rush to market a show called Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy after the announcement by rival network ABC of a similarly-conceived show called Wife Swap. In another example, Fox initiated a boxing-themed program called The Next Great Champ two months before a somewhat similar series on NBC called The Contender, which had been announced by NBC several weeks earlier than Fox announced its program.
It's an example of a phenomenon that has long characterized women's fashion. It's called the knockoff game. See a competitor's product and bring a copy to the market before the competitor can enjoy the fruits of its intellectual property. Just as there appears to be no legal defense against the knockoff game in women's fashion, network TV executives are apparently helpless to defend against it regardless of how much time they spend deploring the practice. One victim of the Fox strategy at rival ABC was quoted as saying, "It's pretty sad that unethical behavior can deny people their intellectual property."
These are the latest examples of the effectiveness of speed as a competitive weapon that was described some years ago by George Stalk and Thomas Hout in their book, Competing Against Time. Their research, stimulated in part by observations of the practices of Japanese manufacturers, concluded that increased speed from product conception to market not only reduced cost but increased quality, variety, and productivity; reduced rework, waiting, and duplicated effort; improved the working environment and morale; and increased sales and margins due to fresher products reflecting customer demand. They found that, among other things, fast competitors froze designs early in the product development process, shared information widely, and managed and executed product development and distribution through small, dedicated, decision-empowered, and experienced teams with limited senior management review and oversight. Fast competitors were often "leaders" of supply chains in which speed was emphasized over cost, information was shared among partner organizations, and duplicated effort and inventories were minimized.
Clearly, speed can be used to enhance product development and innovation, providing faster responses to customer needs. But it can also be used effectively by fast imitators, like Fox, to both save design costs and preempt market share. When used in this fashion, does it pose a threat to intellectual property? Does it discourage innovation by limiting the rewards to such efforts? Should it be discouraged by either new laws or the more diligent application of existing ones? Or does it provide a spur to the development of new products and competitive strategies that are more difficult to emulate, such as those requiring resources that play to the strengths of only one competitor? Can speed be an anti-intellectual property? What do you think?