Understanding patent landscapes
This article has been taken from The Gen Newsletter - Autumn 2007.
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Most companies recognise the important role their patented intellectual property (IP) plays in protecting current and future products and technologies. However, the rate of patenting has increased significantly in recent years and recent court decisions have also changed the understanding of what is patentable. It is therefore no surprise that many companies find it harder to understand the patent landscape in which they operate. Without this understanding, they find R&D efforts can be compromised, new product launches can be blocked, IP strategies can be weak and the risk of expensive and lengthy legal action increases.
Building, analysing and mapping IP landscapes is highly complex, but is an area in which Sagentia has many years of experience for both public and private sector clients. We have untangled IP landscapes for many clients, linking our findings directly to their products and technologies and delivering concise and realistic IP strategies that provide a solid foundation for future planning.
Our experience has led us to develop methodologies and tools to address the key areas of concern:
Defining the patent landscape
Patent searching is laborious, but essential to achieve a full understanding of a patent landscape – if it is not conducted properly, key documents can be missed and the final results rendered worthless.
We start with technology and search term workshops, then conduct iterative searches based around keywords, patent codes, assignees, inventors and citations. Finally, we manually screen the thousands of patents found to reveal the few hundred that relate to the client’s investigation.
Making sense of individual patents
Equally complex, this requires domain experts to deconstruct each patent found to reveal its embodied technology, function, and benefit. Legal and geographical status is also analysed, as valuable IP may be filed with restricted geographies, thereby making it public domain elsewhere. IP is also often incorrectly maintained, again putting it in the public domain. Patent claims are considered to determine if the patent is wide ranging or highly specific and we classify patents by type, e.g. platform technology, product, subsystem, manufacturing process, or material. It is also necessary to establish the level of improvement the patent represents over existing technologies.
Given this complexity, software-based analysis techniques are clearly insufficient, as are quantitative analyses such as patent counts; expert manual analysis of extensive patent landscapes is also too time consuming and expensive. To address this, Sagentia has built partnerships with a network of low-cost, expert providers, allowing us to analyse large patent volumes efficiently and cost-effectively.
Building a ‘big picture’ view
Moving from the individual patent reviews into something useful and actionable is the next complex step. To address this, we have developed a graphical mapping tool which generates visual representations of complex IP landscapes. These pseudo-3D patent maps can be used in combination with expert analysis to uncover technology hotspots, patenting trends and areas of possible ‘white space’. With these identified, further analysis will reveal the impact on technological developments and the most appropriate strategies to address the area.
An international consumer packaged goods company wished to ensure optimal protection for new developments across eight product categories.
For each product category we carried out an IP hotspot analysis, identifying relevant patent clusters, most important patents, and building a detailed picture of competitive position in the growth areas. This allowed us to determine the most appropriate patenting actions and to identify tactical mechanisms to speed up market entry, to manage risk from competitive IP and to find potential sources for technology in-licensing.
Our work with this client produced a radical change in the way it uses patented IP. The company has now adopted an aggressive strategy to protect its intellectual assets and to block competitive developments.