Pull vs. Push

Pull vs Push is well known in marketing and supply chain logistics. Push marketing brings content to the user. Also known as “traditional marketing,” push is the grandmother of modern marketing. Direct mail marketing, such as catalogs and brochures, are prime examples of push marketing.

Yes, you guessed it, pull marketing is the opposite of push marketing. This type of marketing “pulls” a consumer into the business. Meaning: the customer seeks out your company. Today’s consumer is an avid researcher. He or she reads reviews, conducts keyword searches and asks Facebook friends for suggestions. Pull marketing gives you an opportunity to attract the customers who want answers you already provide. When you see a social media offer for a product you love, this is pull marketing at work.

In logistics chains or supply chains, push production is based on forecast demand and pull production is based on actual or consumed demand. That said, pull vs push may also apply to e-mail systems, to migration studies as well as in financial markets.

Pull vs push modes with respect to Intellectual Property

However, somewhat similar pull and push modes may also be considered in the world of intellectual property and specifically when it comes to the invention harvesting, capture and review process and the interface between the inventor community and the intellectual property function. The most important source of ‘inventive ideas’ is the inventor community and so, improving the quantity and especially the quality of ideas that are coming from this community should be of the highest priority.

Some may view the inventor community as akin to a consumer of (some of) the services supplied by the intellectual property function, whereas others may compare and contrast the inventor community to a supplier, submitting inventive ideas into the intellectual property creation process. I suggest that it is worthwhile to see the inventor community as having certain characteristics of both the consumer and the supplier.

Passive push vs active pull

When considering intellectual property, the push mode may be defined as that mode in which the inventor pushes his/her ideas to a rather passive intellectual property function, for that function to then analyze, review and decide upon that particular idea. This push mode works well when the inventor recognizes that he or she has an inventive idea and knows when and how to best approach the intellectual property function. The pull mode may be defined as when the intellectual property function actively seeks out inventive ideas. Switching from a passive mode to an active mode, or in other words, actively seeking out new sources of inventive ideas is a major change for any intellectual property function.

How should the intellectual property function approach this task and how should it be decided whether the efforts needed for this mode of operation will produce adequate results?  How frequently should this task be performed? In recent times there clearly is a trend taking place whereby intellectual property functions are switching from the passive ‘Push’ mode, where they wait for invention ideas to be submitted, to the more active ‘Pull’ mode, where they seek out inventions in key technology areas and from leading edge research and technology and product programs. At the same time, they remain ready and willing to handle ‘out of the box’ ideas from left field.

A successful pull mode generally results in the intellectual property function receiving many more inventive ideas as people will submit ideas where they would not have even thought of doing so in a push mode environment. Of course there will be more ‘dud’ ideas to sift through, but hopefully there are real ‘gems’ to be found there. Good intellectual property educational programs and honest constructive feedback should improve the quality of ideas received over time.

Pull mode is a challenge

Pull mode remains a challenge for many intellectual property functions. One reasons for this is that many of those working in the intellectual property profession are INTJs. This is an ‘initialism’ used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to refer to one of the sixteen psychological types. INTJs are one of the rarest of the sixteen psychological types and account for approximately 1-2% of the population. Although INTJs have many wonderful positive characteristics, they tend to be most comfortable working alone and less sociable than other types,

Pull vs push when the inventor is not an employee

There is also a trend taking place whereby the intellectual property function is working together with the general legal community, as well as the sourcing and purchasing experts within companies, in order to ensure that intellectual property terms and conditions are properly incorporated into contracts with suppliers, vendors and university ‘partners’.  This includes areas such as idea generation and invention harvesting. This trend is especially important as more and more companies and organizations embrace open or collaborative forms of innovation.

Pull mode activities

Pull mode requires the intellectual property function to become pro-active. Pull mode activities may include such things as providing intellectual property educational programs, conducting invention workshops on specific areas of interest, actively working with lead technology projects to harvest inventions, working closely with the top inventors and establishing invention targets together with business and technology management.

Most companies and organizations utilize training in some form, from training new employees on job tasks to providing advanced professional development. Ongoing company training enhances productivity, efficiency, creativity and innovation. Successful training programs have several key components allowing for effective education and learning. Trainers should be educated in learning theory, curriculum development and assessment. The same applies to IP education.

Invention harvesting is a process designed to keep a group’s creative juices flowing and to involve everyone within that group in the creative process in order to come up with a good set of possible inventive ideas. Target setting involves the development of an action plan designed to motivate and guide a person or group toward a goal. Target setting is a major component of personal development and management literature. Studies have shown that more specific and ambitious goals lead to more performance improvement than easy or general goals. As long as the person accepts the goal, has the ability to attain it, and does not have conflicting goals, there is a positive linear relationship between goal difficulty and task performance.


Now that you know the differences between push and pull, which model should be embraced by the intellectual property function? Successful invention capture campaigns adopt the best of both worlds. You need to actively reach out to those who might have the inventive ideas of interest but be ready to accept ideas from left field.

Donal O’Connell, IPEG Consultancy

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