Will employer invest in my idea?


Let me describe a situation I happened to be in by now several times. I work in the field of detector/electronics/imaging systems development. I often get some new technical ideas and solutions, some of them seem to be valuable and often I manage to demonstrate them to some degree experimentally without involving extra resources. When communicated to the employer, it may even get patented. At the moment, I would be happy to develop my idea just for my own professional growth while staying employed, I would rather prefer that then going creating my own company - I see too many problems on this way and not so much interested in remote perspective of getting rich.But typically my employer while staying positive about the idea (in terms of talking) does not provide much of any real support which is quite frustrating.

So the questions I cannot get answer to are:

  1. I heard that generally employer will not invest in idea of hired engineer/scientist.
    Is it true?
    If true then why?
    is it because of it will endanger their recourses and business ( I can leave and work independently, patent protection is not watertight after all)?
    Or is it just psychological, matter of keeping of the management status over non-management employer?
At the end, several times it looks like I have been in the situation when after disclosing some valuable ideas I was effectively forced to leave and my former employer was trying to follow up on that idea.

So at the end what should I do about that? - I know I cannot stop to approach my work creatively. Is creating my own company is only way?

Edit taken from original posters reply to thread:

Thanks for all the answers and bringing more optimistic view to me. To clarify: my ideas are very technical, mostly related to reapplying already in-house developed technology to a different field like applying some developments from multichannel readout electronics developed for medical field into mm-wave imaging for security. Also, I probably got such a pessimistic attitude because mostly being employed by rather small companies (20-30 employees). Another thing contributing to it is that I typically employed as electronic engineer (well sometimes the position might be called Research Scientist or Engineer) while I am graduated in physics and dealing mostly with physics-PhD-kind of things while actually having no PhD. I think employer can doubt my technical competence based on that and to some degree I missing presentation skill training of a typical PhD.

Also, I guess most replies here represent American attitude while my job experience is in Russia and Europe.

Thanks for your attention


Management Ideas Patent Employees

asked May 23 '11 at 02:26
6 points

4 Answers


I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to this.

Any rational employer should love that employees come up with marketable ideas. That said, there are many barriers for change. Many people are invested in the status quo, or fail to see the market potential. Many ideas which later on become successful fail at first due to lack of supporting technologies / bad timing / bad luck etc. The history of the now world famous Post-It note is a good example.

generally employer will not invest in idea of hired engineer/scientist. Is it true?

No, lots of companies use ideas generated by their employees commercially. And most companies go to some lengths to claim exclusivity on the good ideas generated by their research and engineering teams.
answered May 23 '11 at 02:59
Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points


It depends a lot on the company. Some like 3M and Google virtually force their employees into doing this, while many resist it strongly. I take you haven't had a lot of sales training or experience, and what you really need is to sell your manager or someone else higher up on the idea. You also need to be open to their experience - maybe they've already tried something similar and found out that it doesn't work in the market.

Think of what your manager feels when you suggest a new idea. To get a better perspective, what would you think if your friend came to you with a great idea for a new business based on your expertise and wanted you to work on it 20 hours/week for the possibility of a profit in a year or two?

You might like that if it worked but you aren't sure if it will. Managers are in a similar position. If they went after every new idea they could well lose the current business that is proven and often more profitable.

If the company isn't liable to punish you for spending time on side projects (I'm guessing the company is large enough that you aren't being watched constantly to make sure you're working on your priorities), there are two things that are very powerful in getting support:

  1. Strategic alignment - if the company leadership has stated that they want to do more business in the LCD computer display market and your idea relates to that it has a much better chance of being adopted.
  2. Proven interest or revenues - if you can go to clients and get them very interested, even propose that you may be able to sell it at a certain price and show that they will agree to it, or (if you are in the right position or can enlist someone else to help) actually get a few sales and deliver something to the clients, you've taken a big step forward as many ideas fail between implementation and turning into a real revenue stream.

Good luck - there is a lot that goes into building a successful product or business after the idea comes, but if you do this right you might be able to negotiate something extra for your contributions.

answered May 23 '11 at 06:32
474 points


Thanks for the additional information. It helps me better understand your situation.

I feel that the challenges you seem to be facing are not necessarily solvable by just starting your own company. You may want to teach yourself some new skills as you've taught yourself physics:

  1. Selling the idea - As a previous poster implied, you may want to consider teaching yourself to be a better presenter and "sales person". A great canon of how to deal with people would be this book from Dale Carnegie.
  2. Prove it's viable - @Genadinik mentioned you should just do it instead of asking for permission. Many times, managers want to know that your idea is feasible and can be done. Coming up with a prototype or determining a long term plan for how the product can be created is often the next step that can get your manager to see things the way you do.
  3. Prove it's profitable - One of the greatest complaints I hear from managers of development teams is that the engineers like to work on problems that are fun, but not necessarily useful to customers or clients. It's important that you understand why your idea is valuable to the customer and that you can help your manager understand. If you can't explain it to the one's with the money, there is no reason for them to invest in the idea.

Hope that helps!

answered Jul 20 '11 at 11:14
Michael Merchant
167 points


By "invest in your idea" what makes the most sense to a company is to keep it in-house, and just give you extra time to work on your idea.

That might not be a good option because it will probably be owned by the company.

If the company is big enough to really invest, it probably has many layers of permission you need to get through. At one of them it will get stuck and you will just have to wait.

What might be best to do is just do the idea until it gets noticed. Don't ask for permission or investment. Either of these options can slow you down. Just do it :)

answered May 23 '11 at 03:22
1,821 points

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