Right Place And Eureka! Rancher Doug Hall Launch Idea Network

April 22, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS — When it comes to taking a true innovation from the idea stage to shipping a new product, the commercialization process in America is "badly broken. It's a disaster," according to Doug Hall.

Hall, founder and CEO of Eureka! Ranch in Cincinnati, has developed and patented systems for commercializing innovations, and has reportedly helped a number of Fortune 500 companies in the development of new products and services.

Hall has teamed up with The Right Place Inc. to launch a national idea network that links West Michigan companies and entrepreneurs to new product and service ideas from around the country. The collaboration includes a standardized evaluation system for assessing the market value of ideas, and compiling a national database of available ideas for companies to acquire and develop. The national database isn't online yet but should be within several weeks, according to Bill Small of InnovationWorks.

When it does go online, access to the national network will be available to West Michigan companies through the new Idea Portal online database introduced recently by InnovationWorks (www.innovationworkswestmichigan.org). Through the network, West Michigan businesses and entrepreneurs will be able to gain access to vetted ideas from around the country, and inventors whose ideas cannot effectively be commercialized locally can gain national exposure by listing them on the network.

Last week Hall and the InnovationWorks team presented an outline of the Eureka! Ranch best practices for creating an innovation-driven company.

“The work we had already done with the Idea Portal and our commitment to accelerating innovation and commercialization in West Michigan positioned us perfectly to create this partnership with Doug,” said Jim Ross, manager of InnovationWorks at The Right Place. “As the beta site for this new system, West Michigan companies will be among the first in the U.S. to access a wealth of proven, validated innovations they can use to increase market share, improve competitiveness and, ultimately, grow our regional economy.”

"We don't have enough IP (intellectual property) to support all the manufacturing" capacity in West Michigan, said Ross.

Although vetting and accessing new ideas is at the heart of the new network, Ross notes that InnovationWorks goes far beyond matchmaking.

“So much of what you see happening nationally is based on brokering inventions,” he said. “As part of an economic development organization, our goals are much more holistic. We are focused on collaborating regionally to increase West Michigan’s capacity to create and develop innovations at all stages of the commercialization process.”

Hall is the founder and CEO of Eureka! Ranch, a research group specializing in helping to bring new products and services to market for corporate clients such as American Express, Ford, Nike and Walt Disney.

An energetic speaker and innovator, in 1995 Hall and David Wecker co-wrote a book called "Jump Start Your Brain" to help inspire artists, teachers and children. Following that success, he has written or co-authored other books focused on helping businesses be more creative and successful. Hall has been featured on Public Radio International, and Eureka! Ranch has been covered by "Dateline NBC" and featured in Inc. Magazine articles, among other publications.

After graduating with a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Maine, Hall worked in the Procter & Gamble advertising department in Cincinnati, where he "rose to the rank of master marketing inventor and shipped a record nine new business initiatives in 12 months," according to a bio provided by InnovationWorks.

After 10 years, Hall left P&G in 1986 to launch Richard Saunders International, an innovation/invention company, and AccuPOLL, a market research company he sold in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the efforts of the Richard Saunders International staff were split between consulting and inventing ideas for licensing, according to the Eureka! Ranch Web site. In 1992, Richard Saunders International purchased the Edwards estate in Newtown, Ohio, and transformed it into the Eureka! Mansion.

Eureka! Ranch has patents pending on Eureka! 7.0, described on the Web site as a "scientific replacement for brainstorming. Unlike classic brainstorming that encourages the 'wild and wacky' — Eureka! 7.0 is about discipline, focus and thinking smarter about concept development. It’s the world’s first ideation system that honors and leverages the wisdom of 'logical, rational and experienced managers.'"

Hall now also has a licensing agreement with the National Institute of Standards and Technology/Manufacturing Extension Partnership, part of the U.S. Commerce Department. The NIST/MEP network makes Eureka! Ranch services are available at reduced cost to small and medium-sized businesses.

The MEP network consists of independent centers, often connected with universities, in all 50 states. The centers provide assistance for small and medium-sized companies in a range of services from cost reduction to growth.

At the presentation with InnovationWorks in Hudsonville last week, Hall talked about the obstacles inventors and companies face when trying to bring a good idea from the original concept stage to the actual shipment of a new product. He pointed out that most inventions "rarely ship." Only about 1 percent of innovations disclosed by universities ever end up with new products being shipped, he said.

Hall said the problem is "ignorance" — a lack of understanding about the various roles that should be part of the commercialization process, and he leveled some criticism at the legal profession and at the individuals who offer their "services" to inexperienced inventors who believe they have created a valuable new product.

"You know you have a problem when the people making the most money (from inventions) are lawyers," said Hall. The complications and increased costs often come from licensing deals, said Hall.

"I'm not interested in licensing deals," he said, but reiterated he is focused on "shipping — the other is just lawyer noise."

Hall also said he would like to drive the 800-number scam artists out of business. He was referring to individuals or companies that promise to help an inventor develop his or her invention, for payment. He said he was not personally acquainted with any that were reputable.

Hall did not entirely rule out attorneys in the invention process. An inventor should file a provisional patent application to protect that intellectual property, but the inventor should be able to draft the invention description for the application without any help. However, once drafted, he said, "It's best to have (an attorney) look it over."

The provisional application, which Hall estimated costs from $350 to $500, gives the inventor one year to do further research about the marketability of the product before applying for the patent, which can cost $5,000.

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