Igniting Innovation: Tips, Sparks and Ideas for Acting on Innovation

David Lafkas

David Lafkas
David is Eureka! Ranch’s legal eagle, or more traditionally our patent and trademark authority, not only serving as in-house counsel at Eureka! Ranch, but also evangelizing on the importance of patents in today’s world of innovation to stay ahead of your competition. As an Innovation Engineering Black Belt, David has helped numerous companies develop patentable new products and services. Most recently, he’s supported High Liner Foods in Canada and the US on their comprehensive journey to achieve a culture of innovation as they not only create breakthrough seafood ideas, but also broadly educate employees and implement systems driven innovation across the corporation. David received a biomedical engineering degree from the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology and his juris doctorate from the University of Cincinnati College of Law, the 4th oldest law school in the country. He lives in Cincinnati with his rescue dog, Chauncey.
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Recent Posts

What Will You Innovate & Build?

Posted by David Lafkas on Dec 13, 2016 10:12:22 AM

In 1947, Ole Kirk Christiansen purchased a plastic injection-molding machine.  Some questioned why he did so, because for the previous 17 years he had been a carpenter and made primarily wooden toys, including traditional stackable wooden blocks.

By 1951, more than half of the outputs from Christiansen’s toy company were plastic.  This despite his native country’s trade magazine, Toy-Times, believing that plastic would never be able to replace traditional wooden toys.

The plastic toys that Christiansen’s toy company became known for were interlocking bricks, which we all know of as the familiar Lego bricks.

Those simple interlocking plastic bricks have developed into a subculture, six theme parks, video and board games, movies, and clothing.  By July 2015, it is estimated that 600 billion Lego parts have been produced, and Lego was named one of the world’s most powerful brands.

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Topics: Create, leadership, passion, decisions

Is Innovation a Skill to Be Learned?

Posted by David Lafkas on Nov 10, 2016 1:07:34 PM

If your best friend called you today and asked you to go scale El Capitan tomorrow morning, would you be able to do it?

For most of us, the answer would be an absolute no, as it would truly end in a cliff hanger. 

Most of us are not experts at scaling mountains, and if you have interest in scaling mountains, you likely would start by taking some classes and starting on practice rock-climbing walls before slowly graduating to longer and steeper cliffs.

In other words, you would practice and learn from those who know more and have gone before us.

So, why would you treat innovation any differently? 

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Topics: training, fail fast fail cheap, Education

3 Tips to Increase Your Innovation Speed

Posted by David Lafkas on Oct 11, 2016 11:07:14 AM

Lets Get right to it...

1. Write It Down.  Sounds simple, and writing down what your innovation is serves two purposes. 

First it forces you to focus on what the innovation truly is and what its benefits are.  Think about how different it is when you read a description of something versus having someone tell you about it.  The written version, if done properly, is going to be more focused and to the point.  And that's important when you consider that eventually your consumers may only see a written description of your innovation - usually in the form of the product package.

Writing down your invention also helps get your invention out of your head so others can help you improve upon it.  Which brings us to our next tip…

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Topics: innovation, collaboration, increasing speed

3 Innovation Lessons from Tootsie Pops

Posted by David Lafkas on Sep 14, 2016 3:11:23 PM
For those millennials reading this, there is a classic 1970 TV commercial for Tootsie Pop that has taken on a cult following and the rest of us likely remember.  Here is a link: Tootsie Pop!

In the commercial, a young man asks “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?”

So, what can we learn regarding innovation and this Tootsie Pop commercial?

1. Ask questions.  The young man in the question first went to Mr. Cow, Mr. Fox, and Mr. Turtle, as experts, to ask his question.  The first three characters asked admitted that they didn’t know but they suggested other “experts” that the young man should ask.  This eventually brought the young man to Mr. Owl, as the wisest.  

We all know that when posed with the question, Mr. Owl, as the wisest of the experts, offered to help.  After three licks he lost his willpower and bit into the Tootsie Pop.  He then returned the now Tootsie Pop free stick to the young man, and said it takes only 3 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

2. Experiment.  Through Mr. Owl, an experiment was run to determine the number of licks.  Arguably the experiment “failed,” but the answer was correct.  It took only three licks for Mr. Owl to be overcome and bit into that candy shell and reach the center of the Tootsie Pop.  And from that experiment, the young man has learnings.  

3. Pivot.  Because of Mr. Owl’s actions, the young man learned that he needs to pivot and rephrase the question to something like, “How many licks does it take to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop without biting into the candy shell?”  However, without experimenting with Mr. Owl, he may not have known enough to even be able to know how to ask the right way.  

Each of those learnings - Ask Questions, Experiment, and Pivot - are exactly what each of us should be doing with our own products and services to improve them and innovate.  

And before anyone dismisses Tootsie Pops as real science, I would like to point out that there are at least three scientific studies that have been publicized showing the number of licks it does take to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop.

Purdue University reported that its licking machine, modeled after a human tongue, took an average of 364 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.  University of Michigan recorded that his customized licking machine required 411 licks to reach the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.  And Swarthmore Junior High used human lickers, reporting an average of 144 licks to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop.  

What projects are you working on where you should be asking more questions?  How can you more quickly and affordably experiment to learn more?  And how are you pivoting when you do learn more?
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Topics: innovation, fail fast fail cheap, pdsa

What’s Your Innovation Fear?

Posted by David Lafkas on Aug 9, 2016 10:00:00 AM

We all have fears. 

Some are rational, some are not. 

Some drive us to action, some freeze us into stagnation.

When innovating, one must drive out fear in oneself and one’s team.  It is only through reducing fear that we can drive the action forward and to success.

Which of the following fears is the biggest for you and your team, and what could you do to reduce each to help your innovation?

Atelophobia – fear of not being good enough or imperfection. 

Allow yourself or your team to “fail.”  None of us get it right the first time.  Remember learning to ride a bike?  You fall - a lot.  You get scratched up.  But, you get back up on that bike and start balancing and pedaling again.  Same in innovating.  When you or your team falls short of what you had hoped, share that learning with the team and together pivot and improve so next time is better.  And then celebrate that failure so everyone understands that is OK and something that should happen.

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Topics: innovation, Math, decisions

3 Places for Free Idea Starters

Posted by David Lafkas on Jul 7, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Having an innovation block?  Need to kickstart a project?  Here’s three places I go to get out of an idea rut to jump start my mental processes.

  1. Patent Databases.  Did you know that they are not just for attorneys or inventors?  Are recipe books only for top chefs?  Like recipe books, patents tell you how to make inventions.  And if you search the older patents, you can find some inventions that you are free to copy EXACTLY as the patent outlines.  Or, if you want to be more savvy, find those older free-to-copy patents and improve them and protect that improvement for yourself. 
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Topics: Create, stimulus mining, Patents

Ahhhhhhhhhh, finally summertime is here.

Posted by David Lafkas on Jun 7, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Time to kickback and have a summertime beer … err, or maybe not.  Turns out that SUMMERTIME was registered for beer and ale back in 1998.

How about a SUMMERTIME Coffee or not.

SUMMERTIME BLEND was registered for coffee back in 1995. 

Well, if I can’t enjoy some SUMMERTIME beer or coffee, maybe I will relax and put on my summertime sunscreen to protect myself in the afternoon sun.

Do’h!  Apparently SUMMERTIME was also trademarked back in 2007, so I guess I can’t call it that.

Mmmmmm, this is frustrating. 

Finding the right name for a product or service is hard for most marketing.  Finding a name that explains your product and is appealing to potential customers is stressful enough.  However, add on the complexity of also being able to protect the name or even just get clearance that you are not infringing another’s product name can drive a leader crazy.

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Topics: innovation, trademarks


Posted by David Lafkas on May 5, 2016 10:00:00 AM

About ten years ago I made a decision.  I adopted a rescue dog named Domino.  When I made the decision to adopt her, I had a mental list of reasons to do so with the knowledge that there were ramifications, positive and negative, to my decision. 

I assumed she would provide companionship and bring much joy to me.  I made this assumption based merely on seeing a picture of her and seeing how other friends’ dogs brought love to them.  I didn’t have 100 percent assurance that Domino would deliver what I wanted and needed.

I figured Domino would end up costing me about “x” number of dollars per month per year.  I calculated that based on the amount I thought a dog would eat each week, the costs associated with visiting the vet annually, and then the costs to kennel a dog when I traveled. 

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Topics: innovation, leadership, decisions

3 Simple Things to Look at in Any Patent

Posted by David Lafkas on Apr 5, 2016 10:00:00 AM

If you are like most people, reading a patent is not an easy task. 

They are filled with technical language, weird attorney speak, experiment data, antiquated black and white line drawings, and then end with a “definition” of the invention that is called a “claim.”

There are about 9,000,000 of these things in the United States alone.  And innovation and patentsthey can be a gold mine of information and stimulus - if you know what to look for. 

Have you ever asked a patent attorney or agent to read a patent?  Even a professional in the field can tell you that they may need a couple of hours to truly understand what is in the document. 

But you don’t want to spend countless hours looking at tons of patent documents.  You want to quickly assess what the patent protects and maybe whether or not it relates to your own innovation.

So, I am going to let you in on 3 speed-reading tricks that the fewer than 45,000 people registered to practice patent law do when reviewing patents:

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Topics: innovation, Patents

3 Reasons to Bother With Getting Patents?

Posted by David Lafkas on Mar 3, 2016 10:00:00 AM

Recently I found myself in the middle of a conversation that took me back to my many years of private patent practice.  The conversation was with some company inventors who were struggling with leadership in their organization who don’t want to “bother with filing patents” because they don’t see themselves ever spending the money to legally enforce one.

As we talked, I explained to the inventors to go back to leadership and talk about the other reasons to consider filing for patent protection.

  1. Equity.  PriceWaterhouseCoopers recently presented data to the World Intellectual Property Organization that upward of 70% of a company’s value is now associated with intangible property, i.e., intellectual property, which includes patents.  This is a huge reversal from decades ago.  So, if leadership wants to build greater company value, intellectual property needs to secured and increased.
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Topics: innovation, Patents, intellectual property

Welcome to the first blog from the Eureka! Ranch and Innovation Engineering Institute team.  Here you will find a diverse group of innovators dedicated to changing the world by transforming innovation from a random gamble to a reliable system that delivers increased innovation speed and decreased risk.


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