In March, the firm launched an online platform seeking "breakthrough" ideas covering ten different areas, or "wants", like developing sustainable packaging and laundry lines performing well at low temperatures.
More than 1,000 proposals have been entered via this system in the last six months relating to these and other issues, and Unilever is currently in "advanced discussions" with numerous technology companies as a result.
"We've been hugely impressed by the quality, ingenuity and inventiveness of the submissions that we've received," Jon Hague, Unilever's vice president, open innovation, said in a statement.
"This was the first time we have shared our research projects in such an open forum and it's very exciting to have tapped into a new community of inventors."
Yet2.com, a specialist consultancy, selects between the competing submissions, acting as a filter before they reach Unilever's R&D teams.
"We have a long track-record of working with external partners to develop new technologies, so we were already very aware of the strength and depth of the innovation talent which exists outside of Unilever," said Hague.
At present, Unilever employs over 6,000 research and development staff, based in six strategic centres – in China, India, the Netherlands, the UK and US – and 31 product development centres.
Over the course of 2011, the organisation invested €1bn in this activity. The number of its R&D projects involving external collaboration now stands at around 60%, compared with 25% in 2009.
Unilever has announced three new areas of focus for potential open innovation, asking for technologies that reduce deposits left on clothes, cut sugar in ready-to-drink teas by 30%, and stabilise certain ingredients in fruit and dairy lines.
The company is aiming to double its revenues by 2020, alongside halving the environmental impact of its products under its "sustainable living plan".
Data sourced from Unilever; additional content by Warc staff