Not Invented Here!

Inventors often dream big.  Nothing wrong with that – progress is made by dreamers.  Dream right, though; not everyone can take an idea, turn it into a great product or service, and sell it to someone.  There are a lot of reasons why a great idea might never buy an inventor his own private island in the South Pacific.  Just one of them is called the Not Invented Here syndrome.

Not Invented Here, or NIH, refers to a cultural resistance to ideas or products that were developed outside that culture.  There are a number of reasons it may be present.

Some companies follow NIH because they are worried about compatibility issues.  An outsider will almost certainly lack total knowledge about a company’s product.  If that lack of knowledge means the product won’t function properly, problems will arise.  Thus, bringing in a solution from the outside can mean a lot of reverse-engineering, debugging, and problem fixing, while if the product had been developed internally, it is possible those problems could have been avoided.

For some, NIH is based in hubris.  “We’re the best, and we can do it better than you.”  A company that consistently chooses to re-invent the wheel may do so because it feels it can make and improve the wheel, simply because its people are better and smarter than the rest, and something made by someone outside the company is likely inferior.

Other companies adopt NIH polices because they’re worried about patent litigation.  I’ve been involved in lawsuits where two companies met to discuss a merger or patent purchase, disclosures were made to each other, the deal fell apart, and then the patent-holding company sued the other for patent infringement when the other later released a product very similar to the patent.  This is a common occurrence, and one that many companies try to avoid.  It is symptomatic of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing.  In large corporations, it is entirely possible that R&D is working on a product while deal markers are considering acquiring an entity outside the company that makes a very similar product, but the deal makers simply don’t know every scheme that R&D is working on.  One approach that large companies lacking the ability to track information like this will therefore take is to simply establish a policy that no outside information comes in.  They simply don’t entertain outsiders.

NIH is a problem for small inventors because it can mean they can’t get their foot in the door.  It can force an inventor to take his idea to market and show that it can command a powerful presence.  Hopefully, the NIH companies then come to the inventor.