Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving Innovation Hangover

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

The season of holiday office parties is upon us. People will be out of the office or generally not doing traditional work in December for a variety of reasons. Personal days are being used to attend children’s Christmas pageants. Family vacations are being taken. There may be a frenzy for many sales organizations in companies throughout the world to make year-end numbers, but how much actual product and service innovation takes place during this festive time? I wonder.

Although completely unscientific and inherently flawed for a variety of reasons, I took a quick look at overall monthly patent filings (depicted at uspto.gov) over the last few years to see whether December activity was any different than other months throughout each year. Patent filings aren’t necessarily a good indicator for the timing of actual innovation and rather simply the timing of legal work associated with innovation, but I thought it might be interesting to check it out anyway.

From a comparison standpoint, 2009 obviously isn’t applicable because December has yet to occur. And although I can’t say for certain how complete the online information is, it appears there’s a lag in the reporting process. The number of filings for 2008 for instance, compared with previous years, seems to be lacking substantially. 2007 and 2006 however, seem complete enough to talk credibly about their numbers.

The numbers associated with patent filings based on Application Dates for the years 2007 and 2006 don’t really seem surprising. In both years the number of filings in December were substantially below each year’s overall average. December 2007 filings seem to be about 37% below the yearly average. And December 2006 filings appear to be about 14% below the yearly average. The only other month with fewer filings in each year was November. Perhaps the holiday innovation milieu actually starts in anticipation of the tryptophan kicking in.

Go back a few more years however and these year-end differences essentially disappear. December 2005 patent filings based on Application Date essentially equal that year’s monthly average. And in 2004, December filings were actually above that year’s monthly average by about 9%. Perhaps the reporting lag is longer than it appears. Perhaps there are other factors at play. Perhaps patent filings do not in any meaningful way reflect actual innovation activity. In any case I can’t help continue to wonder how the holidays affect innovation.

As you’re sipping some eggnog or chumming it up with co-workers at a holiday celebration this season, know that innovation does not go on holiday. Somewhere, someone is dreaming up the next big thing no matter what time of year it is.

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