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Caitlin Kavanagh of Minesoft outlines the vital importance of patent data and explains why patent monitoring should be taken seriously by all businesses.
Companies that shift their focus to patent data in combination with business insights, rather than relying on business judgement alone, can gain a strategic advantage over their rivals.
By using this data, companies can increase revenue by targeting technology development in the right areas and reduce losses by mitigating risks from an IP perspective. Being warned of potential threats to your company is one of the main reasons why patent monitoring should be taken seriously by all businesses.
However, taking advantage of this data is becoming more difficult as the volume is ever-increasing. In 2018, the number of patent applications filed with the European Patent Office (EPO) grew by 4.6% from the year before, to a new high of 174,317.
Chinese patent applications skyrocketed to 1.54 million, an 11.6% increase from 2017. Worldwide there were 3,326,300 applications filed in 2018, a 5.2% growth from 2017, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Whether you are a researcher, an IP lawyer, a professional patent searcher or a business professional, it’s hard to keep track of the information that is relevant to you. Hours upon hours can be spent digging through this data, to ensure you don’t miss crucial applications, a new competitor entering your field or even a potential infringement.
"Monitoring who is citing your patent portfolio can be a useful way to assess new or emerging threats by watching out for new competitors."
Accidentally trespassing on another company’s patent portfolio can cost you millions, while developing in an overcrowded area can lead to the abandonment of projects after a lot of time and resources have been spent on development.
Despite the importance of patent data as a technical and strategic instrument, many companies are missing out on this resource by:
Assuming that patent offices will ensure nobody infringes on their granted patents;
Having no process to monitor legal status changes on very relevant patents; and
Not monitoring the development of a technology area over time.
It’s clear that monitoring your own—and third-party patent portfolios in your industry—should never be neglected by any company or research organisation. Although the data published by patent offices is very extensive, using the right tools can provide a wealth of information that can help protect and grow your company, and its IP portfolio.
Spot and avoid potential threats
Setting up an automatic alert around a specific search query or classification code for the technology field you’re working in could send important information directly to your inbox at the earliest possible moment.
For example, if a new patent application is filed that relates directly to your field of activities, knowing this before the patent is granted can enable an early negotiation for an exclusive licence to gain a competitive advantage and/or stop your own development before too much time or money is wasted.
Setting up a legal status alert to notify you when a patent expires, ie, because an annual fee was not paid, can also be very beneficial. In addition, the identification of newly published inventions that potentially violate the IP of your company allows for the early initiation of appropriate legal action or licensing agreements. These are just a few examples.
Minesoft’s Legal StatusTracker’s data is derived from patent offices around the world, including the EPO, and those in the US, Japan, China, Germany and France. Tracked legal status changes sent directly to your inbox—automating this process saves time and costs, eliminating the need to navigate around different websites and avoiding the vast amounts of irrelevant data when carrying out weekly manual checks.
A close eye on the competition
Competitor patent portfolios can be monitored on a micro-level, so you can keep a close eye on changes to competitor patent applications and published patents down to the smallest detail.
Newly published patent applications from your competitors can shed light on where they are investing their money and the technical details of the inventions they are working on or plan to focus on in the near future.
Are they investing lots of money in new innovations? Are they cutting costs? Investment is best tracked by actual legal expenditure, which is perfectly tracked by patent applications, family members and maintenance fees. Setting up alerts on these factors can help companies keep an eye on the competition in a cost-effective way, without wasting time or professional resources.
Monitoring who is citing your patent portfolio can be a useful way to assess new or emerging threats by watching out for new competitors entering your market, or existing competitors who are developing in the same area as you.
This competitive monitoring gives you the time and information to come up with mitigating strategies and minimise the effect of any potential threats to your business and market share, before it becomes a serious problem.
Minesoft’s CiteTracker uses a customisable patent search query to identify the patent families of interest to the user and then monitors all backward and forward citations for these families. This also takes into consideration new patent families or publications that are created after the query has run a first time, guaranteeing you won’t miss any valuable new inventions.
With unique visualisation tools, effective filtering (such as backward, forward, patent classes, assignees), links to Citation Explorer and strong reporting and sharing options, CiteTracker allows for the effective implementation of a competitive intelligence strategy based on patent citations and the ability to gain a time advantage over the competition.
For research and development (R&D) purposes, patent data is also of high value. Patents are not only granted for breakthrough innovations but for each new technological step along the innovation cycle, encompassing new products or methods that offer advantages over existing technology. Knowing the latest developments at an early stage can provide your own R&D with new ideas, along with a time lead for further developments.
However, R&D is expensive, and projects can be rendered obsolete or face further obstacles 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 company.
To efficiently monitor the technology area, as well as completing a thorough freedom to operate search, setting up alerts on any relevant patents or a technology area can help R&D and legal teams to stay on top of new data coming in.
If you’re developing technology for the US, for example, you can focus your alerts on US PAIR data. Minesoft’s PAIR alerts remove and reduce the burden on you of tracking this data through the US Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) public PAIR website, by automating the monitoring of PAIR status and date, file histories, full transaction history and continuity data, avoiding the USPTO captcha step.
A family tree is included for all cases to understand relationships between patent documents in the same family, displaying family members in the style of a genealogy tree. The family tree uses live data, so any new applications will appear on the tree when revisited.
This also highlights where protection for a particular patent idea is being sought. Minesoft offers additional tracking products and facilities through Patent Trackers and PatBase, which can be of great assistance in managing a patent portfolio.
Defining your patent strategy
In addition to the actual technical content, the monitoring of patent applications can provide a wealth of information of a strategic nature: which business model will your competition be pursuing, eg, will the focus be on innovation or cost reduction? How should a business behave—should it increase or decrease R&D spending?
How is your industry developing, eg, are there new competitors, or new products that could make yours obsolete? How do the patent offices and courts in your relevant market evolve—are there any juridical changes?
And last but not least: which patent strategy do you pursue: offensive (for example, generating licence revenue), or defensive (securing your freedom to operate)—or a mixture of both?
The time cost of doing this manually is extreme—it can be like finding a needle in a haystack. With technological advances in the patent information industry, monitoring this data in an efficient, reliable and cost-effective way is now easier than ever.
Minesoft provides many different automated alerts to cater for your needs. Whether it’s tracking legal status changes, monitoring a company or a technology area or examining new patent citations, Minesoft solutions and software can transform the way you work.
Caitlin Kavanagh is marketing manager at Minesoft. She can be contacted at: email@example.com
Minesoft, patent data, patent monitoring, IP service providers, business strategy, technology, EPO, patent applications