Although exploiting your own patent portfolio effectively can be an excellent basis on which to build business decisions and strategy, it is not sufficient to know and understand only your own portfolio.
In this increasingly competitive and global world, understanding your competitors’ patent portfolios and how they compare to your own is critical for business survival. The rate at which new inventions are being patented is ever-increasing, so the continuous monitoring of new patents is vital to ensure corporate success and financial stability when attempting to access new markets, exploit existing ones and when scoping the profitability of emerging products.
In addition, publicly available patent data is an excellent source of external ideas and information that can be used in the open innovation model to identify opportunities and threats to a business and improve its survivability and profitability in the modern marketplace.
This information is also of vital important to competitive intelligence, which makes use of public information to accrue data on competitors and the market environment to drive strategic decision-making.
A general approach to gathering competitor intelligence is as follows:
- Identify the information that a decision-maker needs.
- Collect publicly available raw data.
- Analyse the data and convert it into intelligence.
- Communicate the finished intelligence to the decision-maker(s).
- Decision-maker(s) use the intelligence to inform business strategy.
As patents are often the first and only source of disclosure for new inventions, a business that ignores patents as a potential source of information risks building an incomplete competitive intelligence picture and delaying or even preventing innovation.
Acting on an incomplete picture can be even more dangerous, with potential revenue loss through wasted research and development, loss of IP rights or litigation costs following infringement of third-party patents.
PATENT LANDSCAPING: SIX SIMPLE STEPS
A patent landscape analysis comprises a detailed state-of-the-art search to build a comprehensive view of an industry or sector, a specific market area or geographical location, and aims to answer one or more business objectives.
They are used by businesses, researchers, and investors to determine the areas of innovation within a technology area, whether it is a growing area of interest and the owners of those inventions. They can also be used to identify competitors and potential partners or identify technology white spaces for future innovation.
All these questions can be boiled down to a single query: where should we invest our time, effort, and money to achieve the best return on investment?
“Once you have a clear goal defined, it is time to start with some general research to help you understand the area and define an initial search strategy.”
Caitlin Kavanagh, Minesoft
STEP 1: DEFINE YOUR GOAL
It is important to understand why you want to do a patent landscaping activity, and to define these goals in advance. Depending on what the end goal is, you may want to address some or all of these questions while conducting your search:
- Is this a growing area of interest?
- What are the fields of current interest?
- Who are the key players?
- Where are the key players filing their inventions?
- Who are the key opinion leaders in this field?
- What is the legal status of the patent families in this area?
Once you have a clear goal defined, it is time to start with some general research to help you understand the area and define an initial search strategy.
STEP 2: OBTAIN A BROAD OVERVIEW
Begin with some general research around the given subject matter. Basic online research using a few relevant keywords or looking into companies known to be active in the area can uncover useful articles and background information to help prepare your initial search strategy.
Having a clear understanding of the area you are investigating is vital when analysing the final landscape and answering the key questions outlined above.
Studying a selection of basic literature will unearth some high-level keywords, as well as identifying key players that are associated with the technology or subject area you are landscaping.
STEP 3: DEFINE YOUR INITIAL SEARCH STRATEGY
Now that you have a clear understanding of your area of choice, you can begin to devise an initial search strategy. Start by generating keywords used for the specific technology and build from there. Searching your basic keywords within the title, abstract and claims of patents will help you to discover additional relevant keywords as well as active assignees and inventors.
Running an analysis on the International Patent Classification (IPC) and Cooperative Patent Classification codes used to classify the initial answer set will identify relevant classification codes to add to your search strategy.
Once you have developed an initial search strategy, encompassing keywords, classification codes, assignees and inventors, the search results should be more accurately focused on your subject matter of interest by several limitation steps. This process is difficult and needs to be checked at every stage to ensure that relevant records are not being eliminated.
Results can be narrowed down by limiting the geographical area, removing utility models and design patents, removing irrelevant patent families identified by acronyms used in multiple technology areas, and limiting by publication years. At this juncture, you should have compiled a solid search strategy and be ready to progress to the next stage.
STEP 4: RUN YOUR INITIAL SEARCH
The appearance of your search string will vary depending on which patent database you’re using. However, it should incorporate a selection of keywords, key assignees and inventors, full text searches, IPC codes, etc.
Once your results come back, do a quick review. Determine the percentage of your answer set which reveals relevant answers and judge whether it’s enough for a reliable patent landscape analysis. Typically, if it’s 80% or more, your search strategy is sound. If not, you’ll need to adjust your search accordingly.
“By viewing the data from many angles (jurisdiction, year, assignee, inventor, etc) and at multiple levels (families, priorities, applications, grants, etc) you can reveal answers to key questions.”
STEP 5: OPTIMISE YOUR SEARCH STRATEGY
Improving your initial search requires additional relevant keywords, classification codes, active assignees, and inventors. Discover more keywords by reviewing classification code definitions and checking the title and abstract of key patents.
Use the relevant classification codes identified in step 3 to focus your landscape. Furthermore, you’ll need to exclude any potential sources of irrelevant results, enabling a more comprehensive and clean final landscape search.
Be sure to take advantage of features in your patent database, such as analytics, filtering, advanced keyword highlighting and text-mining to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of your evaluation of patents within your landscape search.
Use any tools that your database provides to clean up your landscape, such as grouping assignees together and de-duplicating the answer set to focus on patent families, where all members describe the same invention.
Now that you’re satisfied with your set of results, you can visualise your landscape and address the goal/questions that you started with.
STEP 6: VISUALISE AND REVIEW
Visualise your landscape search by generating statistical graphs. By viewing the data from many angles (jurisdiction, year, assignee, inventor, etc) and at multiple levels (families, priorities, applications, grants, etc) you can reveal answers to key questions and easily draw some conclusions; ensuring you stay focused on your end goal.
Regular patent landscaping is crucial for survival in any innovation-driven industry to identify white space, monitor competitor activity and identify acquisition, licensing, or collaboration opportunities. Having access to a comprehensive database of global patent data is a key first step but ensuring a focused and inclusive search strategy is vital.
The six simple steps outlined in this article can help any user identify a complete patent landscape and draw the appropriate conclusions.
Caitlin Kavanagh is the global marketing manager at Minesoft. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Images, from top: Shutterstock / hxdbzxy, soft_light, Krasula