Ford Offers Employees Free TechShop Memberships to Spur Innovation

5/7/12Follow @XconomyDET

As TechShop Detroit celebrated its grand opening last weekend, Ford announced a new employee incentive program at the makerspace designed to encourage the next generation of Henry Fords by unleashing their inner inventors. The Employee Patent Incentive Award program gives inventors “a free three-month membership to TechShop Detroit for submitting an invention worthy of patent consideration,” according to the press release.

Ford announced it would partner with TechShop on a metro Detroit location last year—the first time the Menlo Park, CA-based DIY communal workshop and fabrication studio has entered into partnership of this kind with a company the size of Ford. (We’re hearing that TechShop will duplicate the model when it partners with DARPA on a new facility in the near future.) The $1.8 million-dollar facility, which held its first open house in December, is located near the Detroit Lions practice field in Allen Park.  Normally, members pay $100 per month for access to TechShop’s 3D printers, laser cutters, industrial-grade sewing and textile equipment, vehicle bays, and virtually every kind of tool and software you can imagine.

Bill Coughlin, president and CEO of Ford Global Technologies, the automaker’s intellectual property and licensing arm, says part of the thinking behind bringing TechShop to Detroit was to encourage Ford employees to think innovatively. “It would be nice if Ford employees would use their creativity to bring to life a new innovations Ford customers will appreciate, but they can work on whatever they want,” Coughlin says.

Coughlin estimates that 2,000 employees will take advantage of the incentives, and says this is the first time they have an official method to submit their inventions for patent consideration. Since the program launched earlier this year, he says, invention submissions are up 30 percent compared to last year. Coughlin says that although there is no specific goal for the number of inventions Ford would like to see coming out of TechShop, the company will monitor the invention submission process and track what’s coming out of the makerspace. “One good innovation would pay for everything we’re doing,” he notes. “I’m confident we’ll get new innovations from this program, or we wouldn’t offer it.”

Coughlin also says the company will announce a new tech showroom inside TechShop Detroit at the end of the month. Centrally located inside the building, the showroom will offer a physical as well as digital space for inventors to show their wares to Ford, other automakers, and auto suppliers for potential licensing deals. In addition, the showroom will digitally connect to other TechShop locations. “We also have a 184-seat auditorium in the building, which makes the facility great for holding licensing seminars to create a better marketplace,” he adds.

Jim Newton, TechShop’s founder and chairman, isn’t shy about his excitement surrounding TechShop Detroit and Ford’s solid embrace of open innovation. “This is actually my favorite TechShop location,” he says. “I’m blown away by how well it’s gone here.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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