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CONFERENCE: Unilever is open to Open Innovation

Pic L-R: Maxine Horn, Kevin McCullagh (conference chair) and Jonathan Hague

24 May 2011

Unilever is working to integrate Open Innovation within its organisation and through partnerships with outside groups.

Jonathan Hague, vice president of Open Innovation at Unilever, told delegates at our Product Design + Innovation conference last week that an integrated model is vital.

“It has to be embedded in the organisation, not something that is bolted on,” he said.

A large number of Unilever staff have done Open Innovation courses and an internal network has been created to advance its progress. Open Innovation is a tool used to support the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan launched last year, in which the brand owner aims to halve the environmental footprint of its products.

Building relationships with partners is also important. Hague gave the example of Nottingham Spirk, the US innovation consultancy which helped Unilever with its Axe and Lynx mini body sprays when Unilever had design problems miniaturising the existing product line.

The speaker following Hague was Maxine Horn, chief executive of Creative Barcode. This company, launched last year, has developed a software app to apply a unique barcode to all documentation in a co-creation project that identifies the source of the IP in the project.

Horn described the approach as “Open Protection”, as it provides certainty over IP from the start of a co-creation project so that the value of the contribution from the company originating the design concept is recognised throughout. She said that without protection of a design partner’s ideas in a project with a brand owner or OEM, “Open Innovation would just be a title and nothing would happen.”

In the joint Q&A after the two presentations, Hague revealed Unilever is in discussions with Creative Barcode.

He said there remains the issue that before the barcode system can be used the first conversation with a potential co-creation partner needs to be non-confidential. The reason is that the brand owner/OEM needs to know enough about the design concept to see if anyone else in their group is working on a similar idea.

But Hague acknowledged that potential partners in an Open Innovation project want to be sure about remuneration, and that a middle ground needs to be reached.

Product Design + Innovation took place at London ExCel on 18-19 May 2011. If you would like to be updated about our 2012 conference, email

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