NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (TheStreet) -- As companies look for ways to streamline staffing without squelching product development, many are adopting a model of "open innovation" and seeking ideas from external sources -- other companies, university labs and independent entrepreneurs. One champion of this strategy is health-care giant Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) - Get Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) Report.
Entrepreneurs looking to collaborate with J&J can share their ideas with its Corporate Office of Science and Technology (COSAT), which looks for scientific breakthroughs and potential new products. "J&J, because of its decentralized nature, may be difficult for people on the outside to penetrate," Gary Neil, corporate vice president of science and technology at COSAT. "COSAT becomes the docking station for these new ideas."
COSAT is looking for ideas related to traditional therapeutic areas (cardiovascular and pulmonary health, for example) and health-related technology (such as home monitoring systems and cell therapy.) The office encourages inventors to send any novel ideas as long as they fall within the realm of health care.
"If we're too prescriptive about it, we can stultify innovation," Neil says. "J&J is very broadly based in health care. There's almost no area where we're not currently in the market or have something in development. When we look in the future, we think about how can we disrupt the current care continuum. The ultimate disruption in health care is figuring out how to prevent disease in the first place."
COSAT places much of its focus on university labs, building a transgenic mouse model with Harvard University and developing advanced antifungal meds with Cornell.
"You find people who are really brilliant and innovative in universities, but
scientists can be a little bit naive about how to turn these ideas into products that are going to help patients," Neil says. "Unlocking the secrets of biology and the universe is important, but they also want to see the ideas translated into ideas that can benefit patients. We think we play an important role in making that happen."
But J&J also welcomes
from inventors. A scientist reviews every idea it receives.
J&J has teamed up several times with
, a veritable invention factory in New Hampshire, headed by inventor Dean Kamen, who is best-known for the Segway electric vehicle. In addition to the intravascular stent J&J produced with DEKA, J&J also marketed DEKA's iBOT 3000, a wheelchair that could climb stairs, although the company discontinued the iBOT last year due to poor sales.
That said, the company uses fewer than 1% of the ideas it receives. Johnson & Johnson won't consider any ideas that haven't been patented, or at least submitted for a patent, and the company eschews ideas that aren't original. The company doesn't want pitches for a lemon-scented version of an existing product, Neil says.
Idea submissions should include the goals of the proposal, patent information, existing licenses with other companies and the importance of the prospective product.
"I want to really understand the 'so what,'" Neil says. "What problem are you really trying to solve? What data do you have to support your thoughts and ideas about this?"
On its Web site, J&J suggests how Thomas Edison might have successfully pitched the light bulb to J&J rather than GE: "Physicians are unable to perform a consistent differential diagnosis of skin rashes due to variability and dimness in conventional light sources."
-- Reported by Carmen Nobel in Boston.