According to a February 2005 article in IP Law and Business, companies like InnoCentive (above, created by Eli Lilly in 2001) and NineSigma Inc. (founded in 2000 with the backing of Proctor & Gamble) are taking a new approach in leveraging intellectual property.
InnoCentive has a network of 70,000 registered "solvers" in 165 countries. "Seeker" companies post challenges anonymously, along with the award they'll pay (typically ranging from $10,000 to $100,000) for a solution. The seeker company then decides whether a solution is acceptable and solvers must sign an agreement to turn over IP rights.
NineSigma searches its database of solution providers and sends out anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 targeted e-mails inviting recipients to propose a solution. Once it gets a pitch it likes, the client--sometimes identified in the initial request, but more often anonymous--goes on to make a deal.
There are other R&D start-ups as well, such as Yet2.com Inc., a Web-based IP brokerage used by both Air Products and Chemicals Inc. and P&G.