Skoltech passed a major milestone on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 when it awarded a doctoral degree to Anja Tekic for path-finding research work she conducted on the practical strategies that companies may adopt for managing intellectual property (IP) in the co-creation of new products and technology. Dr. Anja Tekic, an international student from Serbia, is the first PhD graduate from the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) in Skoltech’s hallmark field of innovation studies.
Through her doctoral thesis, Contextualized Intellectual Property Management in Co-Creation: A Configurational Approach to Strategy Development, Dr. Tekic offers solutions to critical practical problems that are increasingly faced by prominent international companies. Through extensive fieldwork, Dr. Tekic was able to show that each co-creation project (a project that involves a company and an outside individual or individuals) requires a tailored strategy to cope with problems related to intellectual property. In other words, a one-size-fits-all strategy does not work.
We met with Dr. Tekic to hear about her research, and her experience at Skoltech’s CEI.
Describe your doctoral thesis in general terms.
In my thesis, I focus on how intellectual property is managed in different types of co-creation projects, from crowdsourcing, through lead user or expert workshops, to community based-innovation. What is co-creation? Co-creation is collaborative innovation between companies and individuals who are not part of the company. These can be customers, students, product users, and anybody who can provide valuable input for corporate innovation projects.
A co-creation project typically results in a new intellectual asset that might accrue legal IP rights such as patents, trademarks, copyright, design rights or trade secrets. This is where the question arises as to how companies manage intellectual property in co-creation projects. How do companies deal with IP protection? Who owns the IP in the final co-creation outcome? Is a given company ready to share the co-created IP, or do they just give a cash reward and then retain all ownership of the IP? My PhD research offers guidelines to co-creation practitioners about how to develop their IP management strategies to fit the specific co-creation contexts.
You described in your thesis abstract that a “one-size-fits-all” approach does not work for IP management in different co-creation contexts. Could you describe two scenarios in which a management approach differs greatly?
For example, in the context of crowdsourcing, we are talking about company-to-one co-creation. In this case, companies typically try to obtain all the ownership rights and give the contributor a monetary reward. The individual receives money and the company gets the outcome of the co-creation.
Another example is community-based innovation, which takes place in an online company-to-many environment where you have communities of people interacting with each other and offering input to a single solution. In this case, to reduce fear of IP regulation and to support collaboration and generation of ideas a company might prefer to use more permissive licensing arrangements, such as Creative Commons or Open Source licenses.
How does your research offer a solution?
I developed a concept of “contextualized IP management in co-creation”. I call it “contextualized” because it provides clear guidelines to co-creation practitioners on how to deal with IP in different types of co-creation projects. This concept contributes extensively to the embryonic innovation management literature dealing with this topic. Even though the literature highlights the problem of IP management in co-creation projects, it does not contain much empirical research providing companies with a solution to the problem.
The concept is based on the data I collected at HYVE, a Munich-based company that acts as an intermediary in co-creation between their client companies (such as BMW, Adidas, etc.) and individuals who may provide valuable input into these types of projects. They look at students, product users, bloggers who are deeply involved in a specific topic, and they match their client companies with these individuals, organizing co-creation projects. They have a large portfolio of co-creation projects and that is why we collaborated with them to collect data.
How long did you work on your PhD and what drew you to this specific topic?
I began my PhD in Serbia, but then I transferred to Skoltech in February 2015. I saw Skoltech as a great place to continue my work. My supervisor, Professor Kelvin Willoughby, is very passionate about intellectual property, so we decided to put together our research interests, his being IP management, mine being co-creation. He also conducted some pioneering research on the topic of “open innovation” before that term came into vogue, so our collaboration was a natural fit. When I started reviewing the literature I found a lot of supporting evidence that IP management in co-creation is a hot topic and a major challenge for companies, but that there isn’t much empirical research on it.
I think that I am riding a wave, so to speak, because the first paper on this topic was published in 2017, another in 2018, and now mine in 2019; so my paper is the third focusing specifically on the topic of IP management in co-creation! What differentiates mine from the other two is that it covers different co-creation contexts, while the others focus on a single context – crowdsourcing.
Now that you have completed your PhD, what is the next step?
I would like to pursue my academic career and continue my research in this area. I am now applying for different postdoc positions and assistant professor positions, so I would like to continue working as a researcher and to start my career as a professor.
Would you like to put your research into practice in the commercial sector?
I would like to start with the company, HYVE, in Munich where I collected my data. I think they would find my results very interesting, as my research proposes best practices in IP management that significantly differ from their most frequently adopted practices. So, in future co-creation projects organized by HYVE, I’ll see if it is possible to test this concept that I have developed.
How do you think your research can be applied to companies in Russia?
I think that in Russia there is great potential for this research to raise awareness about co-creation, open-innovation, and collaborative innovation more generally. It could help Russian companies become more open. I wanted to base my research on Russian cases, because I am conducting research here, but Russian companies are not practicing open-innovation and collaborative innovation as much as European or American companies. That is why I chose Germany for data collection, which is a hotspot for these kinds of collaborative projects. Through this research we can show Russian companies that co-creation works, that it is an interesting way to develop new products, get new ideas from the market and look at other sources of innovation, not just in-house.
Can you give a few words about the CEI, your supervisor, Professor Willoughby, and your overall experience working here as a researcher?
We are a small group of PhD students and a small group of professors in a practice-oriented department. My time there was interesting in that we are very diverse; for instance, we all originate from different corners of the globe. My supervisor is from the United States, but worked for a long time in Australia (where he was born), Germany, Korea, Thailand, and now Russia. The rest of the team is also diverse in that sense and we all come from different backgrounds, so it was interesting working in such an environment and we had support throughout the whole research process. Being different from the rest of Skoltech in that we are not a deep science-oriented center, but focus on entrepreneurship and innovation related topics, was a great motivator for us to establish ourselves as a strong group of researchers and practitioners.
I am very honored and happy to be the first graduate of the CEI and I hope to start a new wave of new graduates and high-level research in the area of innovation and entrepreneurship.
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