Innovation outsourcing proposal could change pace of informatics progress

April 18, 2008

Progress in imaging informatics tends to be incremental, one deliberate step at a time. But at least one expert believes change could be measured in much longer strides if corporations outsourced innovation.

Progress in imaging informatics tends to be incremental, one deliberate step at a time. But at least one expert believes change could be measured in much longer strides if corporations outsourced innovation.

A new paper promotes the novel concept of having corporations outsource some of their internal research and development to independent inventors. Basically, companies would team with private partners who are not part of the corporate culture and who are not constrained by corporate policies and politics. (J Digit Imaging 2008 Mar;21[1]:3 8. Epub Jan. 3, 2008).

"There are great ideas out there, but because private inventors often don't have the financial, legal, or administrative resources to navigate the patent process, the ideas never come to fruition," said Dr. Bruce Reiner, of the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Reiner said if the independent inventor is not in academia, where universities often provide legal counsel and pay the patent fees in exchange for a percentage of profits, bringing an informatics idea to market is a difficult and expensive process.

"There needs to be a mechanism that promotes synergy between the inventor and corporate America so these ideas get to market faster," he said.

Due to an inherent corporate reluctance to think outside the box, Reiner believes not as much innovation goes on within industry as could.

"In medicine there is a tendency to innovate incrementally, and because of this bias toward small steps, innovation tends to occur in a somewhat deliberate manner," he said.

Reiner, for instance, has an idea for an approach to radiology reporting that is totally different from the manner in which radiologists have created reports for the last 100 years. One feature of his new concept is to provide an alternative input strategy that would allow radiologists to keep 100% of their attention on the image, without ancillary distractions from keyboard, mouse, or microphone. (J Am Coll Radiol 2007 May;4[5]:313 319).

"If an independent inventor like myself comes up with a novel idea, it can be difficult to patent and commercialize the invention independently," he said.

A typical U.S. patent application costs $15,000 to $20,000 - and that protects intellectual property only domestically. Plus, it can take three to five years for an application to get through the review process.

"In a highly technological field like imaging informatics, by that time the idea can be obsolete," Reiner said.

In the end, innovation can be better served by creating an atmosphere for open competition, creativity, and accountability, he said.