About This Series Of Articles
In 2016, the European Patent Office received nearly 160,000 patent applications. Around 95,900 patents were granted in the same year, more than ever before and an increase of around 40% compared to the previous year. As a research company, and even as a patent professional, it is very difficult to keep track of what is important to you. Missing crucial applications and patents is a constant thought—and the consequences hardly comprehensible. (EPO, Annual Report 2016)
In this series of articles, I want to show you strategies to minimize this risk and monitor the patent situation in your technical area with simple and time-saving means. Become active instead of having to react defensively to the strategies of the competition!
In the first part of my article series on patent monitoring, I would like to explain why the monitoring of both own and third-party patent applications in the own industry should under no circumstances be neglected by any company and research organization—even if one does not own any patents. Monitoring means, in the simplest sense, to stay up to date. The data published by the patent offices is very extensive and, when appropriately filtered and prepared, provides a wealth of information that can both help protect and grow your company and its intellectual property and give you an advantage over the competition.
I would like to highlight the following six aspects:
- Monitoring as a pre-warning device. Getting critical information at the earliest possible moment can create new opportunities for your business. A patent for a new technology relevant to your field of activities is filed? To know this even before the patent is issued can e.g. enable the early negotiation of an exclusive license to gain a competitive advantage. In addition, information on recently expired patents—e.g. because an annual fee was not paid—can be very beneficial.
- Monitoring keeps an eye on the competition. Freshly published patent applications from the competition can shed light on which market segments or product properties your competitors would like to focus on in the near future. At the same time, you can prevent competitors from systematically “filling gaps” and expanding their patent portfolio without your knowledge—instead, you can react immediately and possibly at least gain time.
- Monitoring can indicate directions for your research and development. Patents are not only granted for breakthrough innovations, but also for new products or methods that offer advantages or improvements over existing technology. Knowing the latest developments at an early stage can provide your own research ideas along with a time lead for further developments.
- Monitoring can prevent research and development in the wrong direction. Research and development is expensive—and can ultimately be obsolete if a competitor is faster and the first to apply for a patent on an innovation. Just as the knowledge of current patent applications can indicate new directions, it can also be useful to prevent unnecessarily wasting resources on something that in the end cannot be commercially exploited by your organization.
- Monitoring can detect potential infringement. The identification of newly published inventions that potentially violate the intellectual property of your company allows the early initiation of appropriate legal action or licensing agreements.
- Monitoring can complement your patent strategy. In addition to the actual technical content, the monitoring of patent applications can provide a wealth of information of strategic nature: which business model will your competition be pursuing, e.g. will the focus be on innovation or cost reduction? How should your business behave, e.g. increase or decrease R&D spendings? How is your industry developing, e.g. are there new competitors, or new products that could make yours obsolete? How do the patent offices and courts of your relevant markets evolve, e.g. are there any juridical changes? And last but not least: which patent strategy do you pursue, offensively (for example, generating license revenue) or defensively (securing your freedom to operate) or a mixture of both?
To answer the question of whether and, if so, why patent monitoring could be invaluable to you, you may also ask yourself the following questions: can you afford to be unaware of patent activity in your industry? Can you afford not to consider patent applications of your competitors? If you answer these questions in the negative, then at the end of this first part of my series of articles, I want to encourage you to become more familiar with the topic of patent application monitoring—Part 2 will be posted here on my website shortly. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!