Questions about InnoCentive

InnoCentive is the open innovation and crowdsourcing pioneer that enables organizations to solve their key problems by connecting them to diverse sources of innovation including employees, customers, partners, and the world’s largest problem solving marketplace. Our proven Challenge Driven Innovation methodology, community of millions of problem Solvers, and cloud-based technology platform combine to fundamentally transform the economics of innovation and R&D through rapid solution delivery and the development of sustainable open innovation programs. Leading commercial, government, and nonprofit organizations such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Eli Lilly, NASA, Cleveland Clinic, AstraZeneca, and USSOCOM partner with InnoCentive to solve problems and innovate faster and more cost effectively than ever before.

The idea for InnoCentive came to Alph Bingham and Aaron Schacht in 1998 while they worked together at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company. They brainstormed the idea for InnoCentive – what they originally dubbed “” and later “BountyChem” – during a session focused on exploring the application of the Internet to business. In 2001, InnoCentive was launched by Jill Panetta, Jeff Hensley, Darren Carroll, and Alph Bingham, with majority seed funding from Eli Lilly. Darren Carroll led the launch effort and became the first CEO.

In 2005, InnoCentive was spun out of Eli Lilly with investments led by Spencer Trask of New York. In December 2006, shortly after president and CEO Dwayne Spradlin took the helm, the company signed an agreement with the Rockefeller Foundation to add a nonprofit area designed to generate science and technology solutions to pressing problems in the developing world.

In 2006, Prize4Life partnered with InnoCentive to launch the $1 million ALS Biomarker Prize, which was a Grand Challenge designed to find a biomarker to measure the progression of ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – in patients. In February 2011, the $1 million prize was awarded to Dr. Seward Rutkove for his creation and validation of a clinically viable biomarker. In early 2011, InnoCentive launched four more Grand Challenges on behalf of Life Technologies.

Today, InnoCentive is a privately-held, venture-backed firm that has experienced consistent year-over-year growth. Based just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, the company has posted more than 2,300 Challenges to its global Solver network, in addition to thousands of internal Challenges – those targeted at private communities such as employees – executed by customers using InnoCentive’s Challenge Platform. InnoCentive currently enables Challenges in a wide variety of disciplines, including Business and Entrepreneurship, Chemistry, Computer/Information Technology, Engineering and Design, Food and Agriculture, Life Sciences, Math and Statistics, and Physical Sciences.

InnoCentive’s Solver network now consists of over 400,000+ creative and talented individuals from over 195 countries and territories, with an added reach of millions through our strategic partnerships.

InnoCentive specializes in connecting Seekers – commercial enterprises, public sector agencies, and nonprofit organizations – to problem Solvers to help solve their most pressing problems and innovate faster and better. Put simply, we enable prize-based competitions whereby organizations can post their toughest Challenges to diverse audiences – employees, partners/customers, or our global network of 375,000+ InnoCentive problem Solvers – who try to solve them. Depending on the audience, Challenges often carry financial incentives to generate Solver interest and participation, and the management of intellectual property (IP) treatments is of paramount importance.
InnoCentive Seekers are progressive, innovation-driven companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations with tough business and R&D problems that need solutions. Our Seekers leverage our Challenge Platform, tools, methodologies, and expert services to identify needs and ideas, create Challenges, and post these Challenges to diverse and creative problem Solvers for the purpose of rapidly solving them and innovating faster and better than ever before possible.
Quite simply, we work hard to make the world a better place, one Challenge at a time.
By joining our open innovation revolution, your organization increases its research and development capacity while reducing the risk and cost associated with research failure. Essentially, you pay for solutions instead of work, failure, or trial and error.

Questions about InnoCentive Challenge Types

An Ideation Challenge is a global brainstorm for producing a breakthrough idea. This could include ideas for a new product line, creative solutions to technical problems, a new commercial application for a current product, or even a viral marketing idea for recruiting new customers. Ideation Challenges guarantee that at least one Solver will win an award. Additionally, the posting period is typically shorter than with other Challenge types, resulting in quicker time-to-solution. Ideation Challenges involve intellectual property (IP) licensing; a Solver grants the Seeker a non-exclusive license to use any IP upon submission.
A feasible design that may not yet be reduced to practice. A solution to a Theoretical Challenge will solidify the Solver’s concept with detailed descriptions, specifications, supporting precedents, and requirements necessary to bringing a good idea closer to becoming an actual product, technical solution, or service. A Solver can expect a substantial financial reward if their submission is chosen as the winning solution by the Seeker, but an award need only be made if all the Challenge criteria are met.  Depending on the Challenge requirements, Solvers will be required to either transfer or license the intellectual property (IP) in their solutions to the Seeker.
An RTP is a Reduction to Practice Challenge to find a prototype that shows an idea in actual practice (though on a non-commercial scale). In an RTP Challenge, in addition to a detailed description, Solvers are asked to present physical evidence that proves their solution will work within the Seeker’s specific needs, decision criteria, or manufacturing parameters. Solvers are given more time to generate data needed to support their proposals and prepare a response, and the financial awards are typically larger to reward the greater commitment required to work on these Challenges. Like the Theoretical Challenge, an award need only be made if all the Challenge criteria are met.  Depending on the Challenge requirements, Solvers will be required to either transfer or license the intellectual property (IP) in their solutions to the Seeker.
An eRFP is an electronic Request for Partners or suppliers to provide materials or expertise to help solve a business Challenge. Seekers use the InnoCentive marketplace to find businesses or consultants that have already developed the technology they need or have the experience to help them develop it. Unlike other Challenges where a cash award is granted for the winning solution, eRFP winners typically negotiate the terms of the contract directly with the seeking organization.

Questions about the InnoCentive Platform

My IC is the secure area of our web site for Solver interactions with InnoCentive. My IC is created when a Solver registers with InnoCentive. My IC provides links to Solver’s open (in progress) and closed Challenges. The Solver can edit his/her interests, public profile, and account details at My IC.
The Discipline section in the Challenge Center enables you to search for Challenges based on 9 categories. These discipline categories include:

  • Business and Entrepreneurship
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science and IT
  • Engineering and Design
  • Food & Agriculture
  • Life Sciences
  • Math and Statistics
  • Physical Sciences
  • Requests for Partners/Suppliers

Solvers are not limited by educational background and can search through any category to view Challenges and submit solutions.

A Pavilion showcases Challenges based on areas of interest. These categories include customer-specific Pavilions such as Cleveland Clinic, Enel, and NASA; partner Pavilions such as Booz Allen Hamilton and ChemAxon; and more general Pavilions such as Developing Countries, Emergency  Response, and Public Good.
InnoCentive created a secure space online called a “Project Room”; where Solvers can access the secure and confidential communication forum pertaining to a particular Challenge. In the Project Room, you can review the Challenge details, submit your solution proposal, ask questions, and receive answers confidentially from the InnoCentive team. To open a Project Room, you must be a registered Solver and accept the Challenge Specific Agreement.

Questions about Seeker Identity

Seeker identities are kept completely confidential and secure unless otherwise requested by the Seeker. Because InnoCentive facilitates the intellectual property (IP) transfer from Solver to Seeker, the Seeker identity is never disclosed to Solvers. Additionally, Challenges are written to represent a discrete scientific problem rather than a company-specific problem to hide the Seeker identity and mask the problem application and industry.
We keep the identity of the Seeker confidential. It is never disclosed in a Challenge without the prior consent of the Seeker. We also keep the identity of the Solver confidential. Only when the winning solution has been chosen by the Seeker, will we disclose to the Seeker the identity of the Solver. In eRFPs, you have the ability to reveal your company name as a part of the posting so that your identity is available to those researchers, CROs, or other business entities looking to respond and provide services to your company.

Questions about Solver Solutions

You are not obligated to pay an award to acquire intelletual property (IP) that you are already aware of. Much like the terms of a standard non-disclosure agreement, you would be exempted if you can reasonably demonstrate that you were aware of the IP through independent means. Not only that, your Challenge statement can specifically request “novel” methods for achieving the solution, and methods already known either through public domain or to your organization would not meet the Challenge Acceptance Criteria and may be rejected on that ground alone.

The Challenge Specific Agreement, which is required to be accepted by the Solvers prior to viewing confidential information and opening a Project Room, conveys the IP from the Solver to the Seeker. The Solver is responsible for determining his/her ability to transfer the IP where IP is required. InnoCentive does not independently verify the Solver’s freedom to practice the IP or the accuracy of the Solver statements. As explained in response to the following question, we have the Solver physically sign and notarize an Affidavit re-affirming the Challenge Specific Agreement and we require that his/her employer physically sign and waive any rights to the submission. The Solver will not receive an award if they cannot transfer the solution IP as required by the specific Challenge and InnoCentive’s proven process.

The Seeker is also responsible to do their own freedom to operate or patent Search prior to notifying InnoCentive of a Selected winner. Our clients typically use their existing process in place for acquiring IP from outside sources.

Yes, the Solver is obligated through the Challenge Specific Agreement to cooperate with the Seeker and InnoCentive and execute all necessary papers to assure that the Seeker obtains all rights, title, and interests in the Solution and any work product related to the Challenge. The Solver also acknowledges through the Challenge Specific Agreement that they will cooperate without further compensation or royalty due to them through a solution purchased through InnoCentive.

The Challenge Specific Agreement requires that each Solver certify that they fully own the rights to their submission and have the right to assign such ownership. Any intentionally false representation to this effect would be a material breach of the Challenge Specific Agreement and actionable by the Seeker.

Not in every case, and it will depend upon the rules for outside work and technology transfer — the knowledge of which are the responsibility of the Solver. Prior to completing any Challenge award and paying the Solver, InnoCentive requires that when called for, the Solver obtain a signed and notarized document from his or her employer waiving any and all rights to the solution intellectual property (IP). To date, we have a 98%+ success rate in obtaining this waiver. Any issues of conflict of interest or sharing of award proceeds must be between the Solver and his/her employer and are not the responsibility of Seeker or InnoCentive.
There can be no assurance that a Solver does not work for a competitor. Our innovation platform is by definition “open” which solicits the best solution from wherever it might originate in the world. Our Challenge Specific Agreements protect your confidential information and provide you rights of recourse in any case of breach by a Solver. We never disclose the identity of the Seeker posting a Challenge without their permission. In addition, our Client Services team is very experienced and effective in working with our Seekers to disguise the type of industry and even the real nature of the problem that is being posed. Any Solution from a Solver who may work for your competitor would be transferred to you along with an Employer Waiver. If during the verification process you discover that a competitor’s employee has responded to your Challenge and you have received a written waiver from said Solver’s employer for the solution, you are free to accept or reject the solution on its merits. If a Solver has breached confidentiality agreements either in the Challenge Specific Agreement or to its own employer, that is actionable by the Seeker. Some Seekers have chosen on occasion to specifically identify particular companies for which a Solver may not work – mainly to avoid possible issues of intellectual property (IP) contamination, the InnoCentive agreement platform can support such levels of granularity.
The winning Solution is decided by the Seeker. The detailed criteria stated in the posted Challenge are the evaluation criteria in determining a winning solution. InnoCentive assists you in writing the stated criteria that will be used to determine the winner and we help you make sure it is completely and thoroughly thought through. Solvers who respond in full to the success criteria should be given every consideration for an award based upon their work, however the final decision is the Seeker’s.
InnoCentive provides protection for both Seekers and Solvers. Clearly, if a Seeker uses ideas found in the marketplace where payment is required for use of a solution, and there has been no prior documentation by the Seekers of prior work done by the Seeker, the Seeker would be in breach. However, if prior work had been done and properly documented before solutions from InnoCentive had been reviewed by the Seeker, a Solver is less likely to be successful in a legal action.
As an intermediary, we are not able to do this efficiently or effectively. While the Solver is required to demonstrate the novelty of their solution, only the Seeker, with full knowledge of the intended use of a solution, is in a position to properly assess patentability, novelty and freedom-to-operate issues.
Part of our success to date has been the confidence we have built up with our Solver community that they will not be taken advantage of by Seekers acquiring intellectual property (IP) without paying for it. The audit provision is important to demonstrate to our Solvers that we have a mechanism in place to protect their interests. If our Seekers are being fair and honest with the Solvers, the audit provision would not be needed. To date, there have been no incidences of audits having to be done as a Solver must identify specifically the Seeker who has stolen their IP. Again, the value of anonymity that InnoCentive provides for Seekers protects you from unwarranted Challenges to IP ownership or origination. All confidentiality provisions in the agreement apply to the review and it will be limited to the subject matter of the dispute.
By signing the Challenge Specific Agreement, the Solver is prohibited from using or disclosing any information at any time that he or she obtains from the Project Room. The only exception is Challenge information in the public domain, or which was publicly known or available at the date they sign the Challenge Specific Agreement. The Solvers whose submissions are rejected get their IP returned to them and are free to do what they wish with their IP as it relates to other InnoCentive Challenges under the aforementioned conditions of Challenge confidentiality.
Once posted, all Challenges must stay on the web site to their stated deadline. The Seeker would still be responsible for the payment of any awards or success fees that would be owed. This is important as our Solvers begin working on Challenges as soon as they are posted. Pulling a Challenge in the middle of a post period would be viewed very negatively by those Solvers who had been working hard on the Challenge to solve it and would prevent the Seeker from actually finding a solution from someone working on said Challenge. Of course, in the rare situation that a major discovery or some other event makes the subject of the Challenge moot, we will certainly accommodate.
No, the power of our Open Innovation network is based upon the breadth and depth of the community. The solutions can come from any Solver in any discipline and from varied educational, cultural, or varied work experiences. Other than making sure those Solvers from U.S. State Department embargoed countries do not participate, we encourage Solvers of all backgrounds, geographic areas, and areas of interest to join the network. If a Solver is selected to win an award, then a verification process is undertaken before any award is paid.
If you use our Reduction to Practice (RTP) Challenge, you will have broad scope to test Solver submissions against the stated criteria in the Challenge. Our Theoretical Challenge is used by Seekers who are soliciting a sound theoretical answer. It is in effect a Solver theory that the Seekers accepts on face value with no testing permitted and, since the Solver has not been given the opportunity to prove their solution via a reduction-to-practice, it’s not equitable to hold their solution to this scrutiny. And of course Ideation Challenges are simply idea generating Challenges.
If the Challenge is posted and our Solvers are working on the solution, the Seeker is technically obligated to follow through to the conclusion and make an award if a Solver submits a solution that wins against the stated success criteria. Even if a Seeker has somehow solved a problem before a Challenge has run its course, valuable technical information or ideas may still be obtained from a Solver. Similarly, if a Solver identifies a publicly available solution which meets the success criteria but is not previously known to the Seeker, this is deemed to be a successful solution.
Our Client Services staff is available to assist you in communicating with Solvers if you should need additional information or further clarification around a Challenge submission. This interaction must be limited to clarification of the existing submission with respect to the success criteria and not a request for additional information beyond the scope of the original Challenge. InnoCentive continues to hide your identity from the Solver during this Q&A time period.
Once a Solver submission has been chosen as the winning solution, InnoCentive will conduct a Solver verification process where the Solver’s identity will be confirmed by receiving a photo ID, such as a passport, the Solver will be required to sign, have notarized, and return an Affidavit re-affirming the Challenge Specific Agreement they have signed, and InnoCentive requires on Theoretical and RTP Challenges that the Solver’s employer or academic institution sign an Employer Waiver document waiving any and all intellectual property (IP) rights that they might have to the Solver’s submission as a result of an employment agreement.

FAQ Disclaimer

This FAQ page is for informational purposes only and does not represent or create a contract between the reader or a Solver and InnoCentive. All legal representations and obligations are set forth exclusively in the Website Terms of Use and in each InnoCentive Challenge Specific Agreement.