Patent search helps product builders decide which smart product to develop

Making products smart and connected offers product builders a wide range of new opportunities to create value, but it also gives them a lot of choices. Patents contain extremely valuable information that helps in making informed choices when making smart products. Combining it with other sources of economic information, such as the 1 Million Club, can reinforce the results of patent searches even more.

Does digitisation of products lead to choice stress?

For manufacturers of physical products, digitisation offers enormous opportunities to further develop their existing range into smart, connected products. From integrating sensors, intelligence and communication to developing digital services which will completely reposition them within the value chain, the options offered by digital technologies seem unlimited. For typical product builders this is mostly a new world and it is a huge challenge to explore all options before they can determine the right direction for the development of their own smart product. Moreover, the industry is facing an ever more rapidly evolving competitive landscape in which, in addition to the traditional competitors, digital product builders, software builders and start-ups are now also appearing, offering complementary or competitive functionalities for products.

The efficient exploration and assessment of all these rapidly evolving and, for the product manufacturer, largely new elements that help determine the right choices for making products smart, is an overwhelming challenge for many companies, which can even have a paralysing effect (‘smart product paralysis’). So, companies do not need any more wild ideas from brainstorming sessions, for example, but they do need validated information.

Patent search as a golden source of information for validated information

Patent studies can be a very practical guide in making these choices. After all, patents are the result of the R&D efforts of other companies. They are a reflection of the direction in which other companies steered their product development (and the corresponding investments they made) and validate the effectiveness of certain choices. Patents and patent databases therefore contain a wealth of technical and business intelligence, and as a source of validated innovation they can support the product manufacturer in orienting the development of his own smart product.

Patents are in the first place legal documents, of course. A granted patent for which the maintenance fees have been paid temporarily gives the patent holder the right to prohibit third parties from exploiting the invention. In addition, patents are also a rich, often unique, source of technical information. After all, in exchange for the temporary monopoly, the patent must make the protected invention available to the public in such a clear and complete manner that it can be used by a professional. But with the right tools and skills, patents and patent databases can also offer unique business-related insights.

The best-known patent database, compiled by the European Patent Office (EPO), collects patent documents from almost all over the world. Commercial providers often build their own patent databases on top of this, with even more information, such as a brief summary of each publication or they group related inventions in patent families.

A professional patent researcher can derive a list of relevant patents from these databases by means of targeted search strategies and come up with useful insights into the potential of technologies and markets by means of increasingly efficient statistical analysis tools. Product builders who want to make their product smart, will get specific answers to support the development, while allowing them to quickly identify the most promising ideas.

Example: smart transport containers, seen from the perspective of the patent

Let’s take the example of a manufacturer of transport containers, who is wondering if and how he can use digital technologies to make a container smart.

A search in patent databases based on keywords and classifications yields a list of 888 patent documents in relation to smart containers. A first analysis of the evolution of the annual number of patent applications for the past 20 years clearly illustrates that the global R&D investments related to smart containers are increasing rapidly. This gives our manufacturer an indication of the increasing trend in value and valorisation potential of implementing digital technologies in his application.

The following analysis shows the main technologies and concepts in which investments were made, and their trend over the past 20 years. The developments with regard to smart containers are mainly in the field of communication (wireless networks, Bluetooth), identification (RFID, bar code), tracking, security and monitoring. This analysis not only provides the container manufacturer with inspiration as to which way to go with his own development, it also offers orientation by quantifying the frequency with which other companies have invested in a particular concept or technology in recent years.

If we limit ourselves further to inventions (patent families) for which an application was also made in Europe or the US, we get a picture of the companies in the European and American markets that invested the most in smart containers R&D. For our container manufacturer it is therefore certainly worthwhile to take a closer look at the patent portfolios of these players when assessing which digital technologies to implement in his own operations.

Statistical analyses of patent databases offer many more possibilities to measure the value of an individual patent or the patent portfolio of a company: patents or companies that are most frequently quoted in other patents, companies with the fastest growing patent portfolio, the number of countries or regions where a company holds a patent portfolio ...  Each analysis provides new, validated information and insights for the decision-making process of our container manufacturer.

1 Million Club

The above methodology becomes even more powerful when we combine patent research with another source of validated innovation concepts: the 1 Million Club, digital scale-ups that raised more than €1 million of capital or generated more than €1 million of recurring revenue. Sirris built a unique database in which information from these successful digital product builders was gathered. The database allows the container manufacturer in our example to identify relevant European scale-ups that have raised a lot of money and could be interesting for his case. One of the names that appears in the database is Veniam, a company that also emerged as one of the most important players in patent research. Both analyses reinforce each other in this case, and this synergy is an indication for our container manufacturer of the explicit importance of the technical information in this company’s patents in weighing up the possible scenarios for the development of his own smart product.

You also want to derive value from patents?

Do you have any questions about how to make your product smart? Contact Sirris’ patent cell! Since 1998, we have been advising companies on intellectual property and assisting them in handling patents in innovation projects. In addition to the required technological know-how, the experts of the Patent Cell have the training, expertise and tools to give advice on techniques, competitors or markets through efficient patent research. Together with Sirris’ smart products experts, for the more in-depth analysis of patents and technologies, we can assist you in the development of your smart product.

The Sirris Patent cell was created thanks to the support of the FPS Economy. The European Patent Office granted it the status of Patlib Centre (Patent Library) in 2002.

This article was made possible thanks to the support of Innoviris.