There's an old maxim (recently popularized by Nelson DeMille) that says, "Position determines perspective." It's true in chess, true in warfare, and it's true in life. Fundamentally, I think this maxim is all about how our "position" (historical experiences, choices available to us, where we sit, and what we can see from where we sit) influences our views and our beliefs on the right next choices -- our "perspective".
I think this maxim may be highly relevant to the world of innovation and license deals. Depending on the context surrounding a decision-maker (e.g., his position), he (or she) is more or less willing to do license deals. If he's generally comfortable with his business, and not prone to taking risk, his perspective will be that there is little to be gained from dramatically new and different innovation and much to lose (he'll trot out studies showing new product failures, unforeseen expenses, the cost of market launches, competitive response, cost of distraction and chaos to the organization, hassle of explaining this quarter's earning miss to Wall St in the context of bigger earnings down the road, etc.). Similarly, if your invention does not fit into the organization's existing strategic product roadmap, you're going to be DOA with a license deal. Simply put, the current organizational "position" forces a perspective that your innovation is probably irrelevant at best, and distracting / negative ROI in all likelihood (remember, expected value on discontinuous new products is close to or equal to 0).
So what does this mean for licensing? I think it suggests a way to reverse-engineer who might be good licensees for your invention. What I mean is that a good licensee is someone that has a perspective of wanting to bring on your product. Working backwards, they either have your product in their strategic road map, or they have an "attacker" mentality of introducing and investing in new products to grow their business and better compete against their competition. Sometimes they may be #1 or #2 in their category, but usually attackers are more likely farther down the market share food chain.
By extension of this logic, I think I could argue the #1 or #2 players are often not the best licensees. Their position is often "don't make a mistake" and to grow incrementally and safely. It's the attackers that may be #3, #7 or even #10 in a category that want to take a risk -- because their "position" DETERMINES that they must. Staying at #3/7/10 is not part of their plan; growing and taking share is their plan. And to grow and take share, you MUST change what you're doing today; doing the "same old" never moves anyone up in the rankings.
Don't take this the wrong way; sometimes the leaders ARE THE LEADERS because they work harder, think smarter, and take risks by changing what they do. Tiger Woods is a great example -- top of his game, and he CHANGES his golf swing?!!. I submit that leaders (and organizations) with that kind of courage and risk-taking fortitude are rare.
So far, over the past few years at EIP, we've seen first hand that the "bigger" players, the ones you think SHOULD want a new product, have a perspective that they are happy to talk innovation, but aren't really embracing it organizationally. In connecting the dots, I think that's because their position drives a perspective on outside-in innovation that is less than welcoming (too much risk, new product queue is already full of great stuff, earnings targets gotta be met, etc.).
The guys farther down the market share rankings are gunning for the top slot. And they're often times more willing to take risks -- because they HAVE TO. They're hungrier, their product road map is a little more fluid and a little more aggressive, and therefore the organizational position determines a perspective on licensing that is often more open...
So, if the maxim is true, it's time to open the aperture and start looking to the guys that WANT to be #1 or #2 rather than looking to the guys that are #1 or #2. Perhaps market share position does determine perspective in the form of hunger and willingness... I'll keep you posted :)