Betting on diversity in innovation

If I told you that by increasing the diversity of your inventor population, the strength of your company’s patent portfolio would also increase, would you take that bet? Well, Lenovo is not only betting on this proposition, but intends to prove it through data.

Lenovo has long recognised diversity as a leading factor in providing a competitive advantage to serve our global customer base. We believe that a global workforce should reflect the global customers that we serve and the diverse perspectives of our employees are at the core of our vision of providing Smarter Technology for All. This vision naturally extends to Lenovo’s products. Through its Product Diversity Office, Lenovo implemented a “Diversity by Design” process to ensure that the design of our products account for the unique ways in which a diverse set of users might access and experience technologies.

Lenovo’s patent portfolio represents the innovation of our employees for our products. Therefore, it stands to reason that focusing on diversity of this population will increase the strength of our patent portfolio.  So, how do we prove this hypothesis?

The path to the data

Lenovo’s journey to increasing diversity in inventorship started with collecting inventor data. Historically, when thinking about a company’s patent portfolio, the focus is on the assets themselves.  What is the patent’s technology field? How broad is the claim scope? Inventorship information, however, has only been relevant to the extent necessary to identify the inventor and file a patent application. So, while we had inventor information such as home address, citizenship, and residency, our inventor profiles were lacking with respect to fields such as gender, race, ethnicity or other identifiers of diversity.

With the help of Lenovo’s leadership and HR department, we obtained employee diversity information. We then engaged our patent portfolio management system administrators to update the inventor profiles to include the appropriate fields in which the information could be populated. With safeguards in place to adequately protect this private information, we are now able to pull this information directly into our inventor profiles.  This allows us to run reports that show the current diversity of our inventor population as well as understand the experience of diverse inventors through the various decision points in the patent process.

What we found was that, like most companies, diverse inventors such as women and racial minorities were not well-represented as inventors in our patent process. A silver lining was that, while still needing improvement, the disparity in the experience of underrepresented inventors at decision points in the process was not as considerable. Informed by the data, we chose to prioritise inclusion of more diverse inventors into the patent process (i.e., encouraging diverse inventors to disclose their innovations) to best achieve and maintain our goal of improving our inventor diversity.

How to improve

Lenovo started collaborating with other companies to discuss how best to address the lack of inventor diversity. Through the discussion, it became clear that, in line with the same premise that diversity of thought would yield better ideas, we needed to expand the conversation. We began crafting and, ultimately, signing the Pledge to Increase Diversity in Innovation. The pledge provides a framework for developing best practices around collecting, tracking, reporting, and increasing inventor diversity. In light of the global nature of Lenovo’s patent portfolio, Lenovo selected to focus on gender diversity of our inventor population to fulfill our Year 1 obligations under the pledge. Once we establish a template for increasing diversity among this group, we intend to extend the focus to other underrepresented groups, including race/ethnicity and veteran status in applicable geographies.

We have already implemented phase one of our efforts to increase diversity through targeted trainings and patent team introductions with members of the Product Development Office and Women in Lenovo Leadership (WILL) employee resource group for employees identifying as women. We have also helped to establish all-women, cross-functional inventor teams that now meet regularly to conceive and develop patentable ideas.  We are currently working on a series of all-women brainstorming sessions to develop patentable ideas for addressing any potential gaps in Lenovo’s products and services from a woman’s perspective. While the impact is not yet measurable, these initiatives aided our goal of creating awareness of the patent process to new and diverse potential inventors.

As we work toward rolling out the next phase of initiatives, we are focused on implementations that will allow us to track measurable changes that we can tie back to the initiatives. To that end, we are considering varying the initiatives and timing of their rollout across different business units and geographies to define control groups and experiment groups. This approach will also allow us to determine whether certain initiatives may be more effective among one population versus another (e.g., an initiative may not yield meaningful improvement among US inventors but find traction among Japanese inventors in the same business unit).

Winning the bet

The final piece to proving our hypothesis requires correlating changes in the diversity of Lenovo’s inventor population with changes in the strength of Lenovo’s patent portfolio. There are numerous ways to determine patent value and portfolio strength, each with their pros and cons. The key will be comparing the changes in diversity using the same strength indicators.

Lenovo is all-in and we believe we have a winning hand. But, in the end, Lenovo is really just betting on is its people and that by capturing more of their great work and innovation, we’ll be measurably better. That is a bet we cannot lose.

 

Inclusivity Insights is a monthly feature in which companies share stories, learnings, and experiences of their D&I journey related to IP and innovation with the IAM audience. Previous articles in the series:

Diversity pledge companies now number more than 50

Closing diversity gaps in patenting: current initiatives and the HP perspective

How Seagate is working to advance diversity and inclusion in patenting

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