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Inventor cooperatives – Could this unique Finnish model shape the future of how we invent things?

The rise and fall of Nokia

Nokia’s success is often described in Finland as a miracle; the company originally made tyres and gumboots in a small city called Nokia. When it moved into mobile phone manufacturing, the industry was still very small and it managed to reach significant market share. However, what happened next was something unprecedented in Finnish history. Everyone in the world wanted a mobile phone, were willing to pay substantial amounts for it, and wanted successive phones – and Nokia was the global market leader for 14 years. Nokia’s share of the Finnish GDP during this time was around 3-4%. In no other western country did one company have a similarly large share of the overall economy.

As the company started to decline with the rise of the iPhone, the lay-offs and decline in research and development was so painful that Finland is still yet to recover from the shock. However, it also gave birth to a movement that might have a more profound and lasting effect on the world – that of inventor cooperatives.

The birth of inventor coops

In 2015 former Nokia employees, many of whom had registered many patents during their time at Nokia, set up A. Vipunen, a cooperative of inventors. It now has over 160 inventors, of whom it helps to develop and commercialise the inventions. It provides free advice and mentoring, helps make a business plan and patent the innovation. And, perhaps most importantly, it provides a community of experienced inventors that have weekly meetings open for all members, where they can socialise and share their ideas. Collaboration also happens with universities, where the cooperative helps researchers find business opportunities for their research. An important part of the process is the use of publicly funded “innovation vouchers”, which the government issues for small businesses that have an idea for a product or a service that has potential for global markets. The vouchers can be used to buy consultancy services for €6200. A. Vipunen also organises Hackathon-type events where businesses give challenges to the cooperative that organises its members to provide solutions that the businesses can then buy.

The Handy Care Ring is one invention that originates from A Vipunen. It releases tension in the forearm muscles, allowing them to start recovering on their own. It is especially useful for treating tennis/golf elbow and mouse arm.

The growth of membership surprised its founders, who were expecting the cooperative to have little appeal outside of former Nokia employees, but soon found membership applications coming from a broad range of people. It is based in the north of the country, and has had a statistically significant effect on increasing the number of patents in the region. They have also helped replicate the model and set up numerous similar inventor coops around the country.

This model of inventor cooperatives that is growing rapidly in Finland should be replicated across the world. The cooperative movement has over a billion members worldwide and includes more than 200 multi-billion dollar enterprises. Perhaps they could cooperate with each other by setting up a global network of inventor cooperatives that could seek to address some of their shared needs?

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