In this world, race is always on. To stand out in the top 1%, you need to do what the other 99% aren’t doing. But for that, first, you need to know what those 99% are doing.
Any company pursuing competitive technical intelligence resulting in timely informed decisions has a great chance to stay ahead in the market.
Competitive Patent landscape analysis is a player-focused, systemic study of the patents in a specific area for organizations to assess their position in the market and stay ahead of competitors. This involves identifying patent and technology trends among rivals and deriving crucial insights for making informed decisions.
In the past, we know that Intel missed the bus of processors used in mobile phones despite being one of the pioneers in the field of processors. Similarly, Nokia missed the bus of smartphones despite being a leader in the phone market.
But those events are more than a decade old. Earlier, technology would grow out of date in a decade or more, but now even one-year-old technology may seem out of date in light of new developments taking place. The technological landscape is changing more rapidly than ever.
Therefore, with the study of the patent landscape in your target area, you can identify potential licensing opportunities, crack merger and acquisition deals, and develop more effective product development strategies.
The topic will be incomplete if we do not discuss the challenges in intelligence gathering and analysis, along with tips to overcome them.
By the end of this article, you should have a comprehensive understanding of the topic. So without further ado, let’s begin the discussion.
1. Understanding Patent Landscape Analysis
The world of tech is changing really fast—”faster than ever before.”
With the emergence of artificial intelligence, efficiency, and productivity are going up. In fact, it is said that machines would be advanced enough to improve upon themselves without external input, leading to exponential growth in technology. We call this event singularity.
When we will reach the point of singularity is the subject of discussion and deliberation; however, with time, the pace of innovation is picking up. Therefore, it has never been more important to perform an analysis of a competitor’s patent landscape.
There are multiple ways to examine the patent landscape. For example, you can look for what’s really cooking in the landscape of a particular technology.
However, here our focus is to understand the competitive environment by scanning rivals.
Let’s take an example: you are a company looking to enter the market for wearable technology. But you can’t go in blind. You have to have information, or intelligence, to be precise, in order to make decisions.
The information may include insights into market gaps that are untapped by existing players, or it may enable you to differentiate your product or service from the existing ones. This way, as a new entrant, you can brand yourself in a unique position.
A typical analysis of the patent landscape involves the following key components:
Defining the objective and scope of the analysis
Conduct Patent search and collect data
Analyze and visualize the collected data
Draw conclusions, identify key trends, and make decisions
You can refer to this article to learn more about the patent landscape. Let’s now focus on the topic of our post, i.e., gathering competitive technical intelligence.
2. Steps in Conducting a Competitive Patent Landscape Analysis
Now that we know a little bit about the study of the patent landscape, let’s learn how to conduct one with the focus being on competitive technical intelligence. But first, let’s see one example of it.
Suppose there is a phone company named AB inc. It has decided to conduct an analysis of its competitors’ patent portfolios. In the process it finds that:
1. one of its rivals XY inc owns a large cluster of patents in the area of flexible displays,
2. Another small company, PQ inc., also has a lot of patents in this area,
3. Moreover, it also finds a technical gap (also known as white space) in next-generation wireless communication technology i.e. none of its rivals have explored this area enough.
Based on these findings, AB inc. can decide whether:
1. To consider licensing flexible display tech from XY inc. for its products,
2. To not develop products using flexible tech,
3. To build its own portfolio in the tech of flexible displays,
4. To consider a merger & acquisition deal with PQ inc, or
5. To build a patent portfolio in the area of discovered technical gap i.e. next generation wireless communication technology.
This example explains how significant a role a competitor’s intelligence can play in the future of a company.
To stay on the path of growth, such studies are constant endeavors taken by companies, institutions, universities, inventors, research institutions and government agencies, etc.
This example should put you in a familiar space with the concept of gathering the patent intelligence of rivals. Now, let’s look at the steps required to perform the same.
2.1 Defining the objective and scope of the analysis
Like everything in life, you can’t have directionless efforts and expect the best possible outcome. You should know where to focus efforts and resources for a meaningful outcome.
Similarly, for intelligence gathering of competitor’s patent strategies, you should first know the object of study and subsequently, decide the scope.
There are many possibilities to start with. For example,
You may already have prioritized players/competitors in mind to be studied,
You may find a list of competitors or players in domain-based patent landscape study,
You may even focus on a single player’s patent portfolio and strategy,
You may consider a geographical location for studying competitors,
You may research the market to identify competitors, etc.
Further, you need to decide on a time period to consider for analysis. For example, if you want to enter the wearable technology field, then you may want to perform a competitor’s study from 2010 to the present, etc.
2.2 Conduct patent search and collect data
As we have identified a list of contenders, or those that have some presence in the concerned technology domain, now is the time to perform a targeted patent search on various free and paid databases.
For example, from the free search engine, Lens, we get the list of top patent owners in the field of wearables as shown in the image. Other details such as publication, filing, and grant trends; legal status; document types; top applicants; top inventors; top classification; jurisdiction-wise patents; top agent & attorneys; top cited patents, etc. can be retrieved from search tools for understanding the landscape.
Some popular free patent search engines and databases, including those providing AI-based advanced tools, have been listed in this post, Find Prior Art: 15 Free Patent Databases, AI Tools, and Search Engines. Do check it out if you ever want to search for a patent or even a scholarly article.
Moreover, we have written a free guide to searching for patents and non-patent documents, covering all the important basics of finding prior art: Prior Art Search Free Guide 101: Do it Yourself
2.3 Analyze and visualize the collected data
After you have retrieved patents, analyze them for publication date, patent status, claims, citations, inventors, geography, etc. For such an analysis, you can use Excel or some software that does it for you. Many patent search tools also do some of it for you.
After you organize the patent data, you look for insights into the competitive landscape. For example, if one or more competitors have filed patents, say, in wearable technology, this indicates that wearables are the focus of the market.
Further, you can find out the focus of players in the subdomain of technology. For example, even if both companies work in the wearable sector, one may be the market leader in smartwatches and the other in tracking devices.
One of the important aspects of the analysis is that it should result in readable insights. Here comes the visualization of the picture. It may involve preparing charts, graphs, maps, etc. to identify trends and insights more clearly.
For example, it may involve a graph that shows the year-wise patent filings of a company in a particular technology, indicating its focus area over time. Here, in this picture, Samsung Electronics’ filing, grant, and publication trends are shown for wearables. This shows that the company started its focus around 2012 and the filing was piqued around 2016. Similarly, we can look at how many patents are currently active which can challenge our business in wearables and what are their subdomain in wearables, etc.
2.4 Draw conclusions, identify key trends, and make decisions
With the patent data analyzed and visualized, you are now ready to draw insights and identify trends. This will involve summarizing your findings, highlighting important trends, and making recommendations to your company or to your clients.
For example, you can suggest further conducting a quality evaluation of patents held by competitors. By knowing the scope and strengths of the patents and analyzing the claims, prior art, and litigation history, you can make an informed decision.
For example, suppose your opponent holds multiple patents in the field of smartphone design.
However, during the quality evaluation, you discover that those patents are weak due to prior availability. You or your client can exploit this information to develop its products and services. If the opponent has strong patents, you can suggest that your company focus on some other area instead.
Similarly, you can identify “white spaces” where there are no patents filed or where the patent landscape is weak. Such gaps are opening for potential innovation and opportunities for your company.
By now, it should be clear to you how important it is to perform a comprehensive patent landscape analysis to conduct business in a country where intellectual property is strongly protected.
Let’s see what other benefits you can derive from competitive patent intelligence.
3.1 Better Market Understanding
Who wouldn’t want to have knowledge of the competitive scenarios in the market?
Further information on the patent assets of your opponents, along with their future areas of focus, technical gaps untapped by them, and weaknesses of their patent portfolio, can do wonders for your business.
You can further use the intelligence gathered to make informed decisions in the planning and development of products and services.
Imagine that there are a lot of drone companies, all focused on the transport and surveillance areas of application. In your competitive research, you find that there is little to no activity when it comes to the agricultural applications of drones.
This is a clear opportunity to capitalize on an untapped market segment. So, you can plan on tweaking drone applications to meet the needs of the agricultural sector.
3.2 Efficient and effective patent strategy
With an understanding of the competition in the market from patents, you can:
plan your efforts to avoid duplication of work;
mitigate the chances of infringement and thus, avoid costly litigation;
build and strengthen your patent portfolio in the areas identified in the landscape analysis,
plan licensing or merger & acquisition deals, etc.
3.3 Better decision-making
Decisions are taken based on available information. The likelihood of the decision being correct depends on the amount and quality of information that went into the decision-making process.
To run a successful business, all types of decisions have to align in one direction to achieve a single objective.
As a result, competitive technical intelligence from patents not only aids in the development of your patenting strategy, but also in other decisions such as marketing, research and development, and product and service development.
Another important thing to note is that knowledge of the competitive environment is important not only for new entrants and small players but also for big and established players.
4. Common challenges in the analysis
4.1 Access to relevant data
One of the challenges in performing landscape analysis is access to relevant data. Not only it is hard to find data, but it is time-consuming also as you have to skim through large databases.
This can make it challenging to have a comprehensive analysis of the competition in the market.
4.2 Quality of data
Even when you somehow access the relevant data, the quality of it is not assured. Not only it is difficult to interpret the patent data, but getting the most relevant data for the most accurate insights is also challenging.
Performing a landscape analysis be it general or competitive, is resource-intensive and time-consuming. From planning the study and collecting data to analyzing it takes a significant amount of resources which is sometimes difficult to commit.
However, as we have seen this is the most crucial intelligence-gathering exercise that can help you stay relevant in the years to come.
4.4 Lack of expertise
Among all the challenges, this may be the most crucial. There is no substitute for expertise. Skills that are required to conduct competitive patent intelligence gathering may include
ability to find the relevant data,
knowledge of patent law,
ability to interpret technical information,
ability to analyze,
draw meaningful conclusions, etc.
That is why most companies not only rely on in-house talent but also look for outside expertise for analysis.
In this post, we discussed what is a patent landscape and what is competitive analysis in that. Further, we looked at how can we gather intelligence about competition in the market and use it to our advantage. This brought the discussion of benefits and challenges.
Despite the challenges, we can assume that conducting a competitive patent landscape analysis is well worth the effort.
Knowing about your rivals to get past and stay ahead is not new. It has been happening for ages. It’s just that the way these affairs are conducted is changed over time but fundamentals remain the same.
We hope that you have enjoyed this discussion. You may further want to explore HavingIP which has a wealth of information regarding patents.