New Frontiers in the Strategic Use of Patent Information

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The advent of free access to on-line patent databases at the turn of this century was the first big change in the IP system for many decades but this was only the first step in the 'democratisation' of the data. The benefits of free access to these vast amounts of data have been more than offset by the massive growth in the sheer volume of patent information over the last 10 years. The information needs of technology businesses now transcend the capabilities of any single end-user. Some 20 million patents have been granted with about one and a half million new patents issued each year globally. About €3 billion is spent by the industry every year on patent information, but much of this expenditure is wasted through inefficiency and duplication of effort.

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The Utility of Patent Mapping

Unlike marketing reports which analyse information accessible via an intelligent use of Google, a Patent Mapping study is a deep dive into the Invisible Web – to the reliable information derived from paid subscription patent databases.

Firms disclose their secrets – ‘patent’ them in exchange for a limited monopoly. Yet the complexity of the patenting system – especially the sheer number of patents - severely diminishes the value of disclosure. A Patent Mapping study aims to restore the original intention by allowing clearer dissemination of knowledge. Thus it serves an urgent need for companies - both large corporations and SMEs - to gain access to the rich vein of technical and commercial intelligence contained in patent databases.

Patents are an exclusive and valuable source of information on recent developments in highly commercially sensitive technology areas. Patents can be considered as a topical indicator of levels of R&D effort - being one of the principal outputs of such activities - and patent data are available with at most an 18 month delay. A good overview of the activities of major players is essential for the cross-fertilisation of R&D efforts at an international level. Business intelligence derived from such knowledge frequently helps strategic decision making. Improving access to the information buried within patent databases creates huge opportunities for businesses, especially for new entrants that have yet to build up significant internal technology know-how. Patent landscapes can be used to visualise patterns of technology competition on a global scale. Patent landscaping, as the process is called, is the tool increasingly used by large corporations to inform product development and technology strategies. By analysing vast amounts of data in patents databases, users can gain a significant competitive advantage. For example, patent mapping can give firms comprehensive insights into innovation trends and the position of rivals, can show gaps and opportunities, the parts of the world where specific new technologies are being developed, and so on. But current methods are notoriously difficult to automate and so they are skill and labour intensive.

While Patent Mapping is historical in its perspective, its primary value is in allowing a corporation to inform the Business strategy to define a successful path forward. Once the business become aware where its competitors are and which way they are heading, the managers receive the vital information they need to shape the strategic and tactical responses for the Product and Technology strategy. Patent Mapping is essential for modern corporations because its relatively modest investment can both minimise potential risks and identify significant opportunities.

A Patent Mapping study is a vital part of any IP 'intelligence' exercise and must be considered by each company in the context of its own business strategy, product/service planning and technology strategy.

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