Understanding your patent landscape

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William Betten explains how analyzing the patent landscape in a given field allows IP to act as an intelligence tool.

The strategic use of IP assets combined with forensic technical analysis to support competitive intelligence and IP programs are well-proven practices that can help companies meet the challenges of the evolving market place. In addition to providing a look at the direction of technology, no competitive analysis is complete without a patent landscape. A patent landscape provides a list of current and future competitors as well as insight into your competitors’ strategic direction, including future product offerings. In addition, the patent landscape can identify opportunities for your R&D and patent investments, clarify the relative strength of your patent holdings, and identify potential targets for acquisition or strategic partnerships.

Patent landscaping for diabetes

TechInsights (www.techinsights.com) recently completed a landscaping project which combined market, technology, and IP analysis in the field of diabetes. This exercise clearly demonstrated how IP is an important tool in building a business intelligence plan. In order to assess such a broad area, the specific target boundaries were first defined. We targeted medical devices used in the detection, monitoring, and treatment of diabetes. We explicitly excluded the evaluation of drugs and potential treatments like islet replacements or transplants. In addition, we elected not to evaluate generic patient monitoring systems even if they meet the definition of medical devices, as those products tend to not be specific to diabetes. A framework was devised to partition the problem into manageable segments to analyze the products and technologies associated with diabetes. These categories were further subdivided into partitions with finer resolution for the devices associated with these categories.

A fairly generic search of diabetes-related patents in which the keyword “diabetes” was found in the patent claims generated over 100,500 patents with the patent activity beginning as early as 1969. The top ten categories by International Patent Classification (IPC) code are all essentially drug-related patents and account for over 51,000 of the patents. This patent set was initially screened by excluding those patents covering drugs, transplants, and generic monitoring systems.

Finally, the patent set was further reduced in size by focusing on three types of patents and patent applications: US, EPO, and WIPO. This reduction, while lowering the number of patents in the final analysis, does not significantly reduce the scope of technology covered, since significant intellectual property is filed in at least one of these three jurisdictions. This resulted in a subset of patents which were then reviewed for relevance. Expired patents were then removed, and the dataset was then expanded to include the patents from all jurisdictions.

The result is that almost 5,900 unique patents (the “dataset”) were placed into the technology subcategories for individual review and analysis. A high-level analysis was conducted on the whole dataset, followed by an in-depth look and assessment of each category; the companies within each category; and representative samples of “strong” patents.

The results

Space does not allow for a complete description of the report (www.techinsights.com/diabetes/), but some key points will be noted that demonstrate the value of a properly conducted patent landscape. A list of the top 20 patent assignees within the dataset reveals who the key technology holders are (see Figure 1). By comparing the IP holdings to the products offered by the companies a view of the competitive landscape begins to appear. A deeper look at the number of patents within the specific technology subcategories reveals the areas that have received the greatest focus and, typically, the largest number of developed products (see Figure 2), as well as those technology areas that may offer opportunity for future development.

Continuing the analysis within a category by assessing patent timing, strength, geographic distribution, ownership, etc provides further insight into both threats to existing business as well as potential opportunities for expansion by investment in R&D or acquisition. For example, a look at the patent assignees within a particular technology category may reveal a competitor’s product strategy in advance of a product launch. Figures 3 and 4 reveal the top 20 assignees within the test strips and continuous glucose monitoring categories specifically. By comparing the companies within the categories, you can determine who the players are in each of the areas and get a sense of how broad their product offerings are within the field. Additionally, by looking at an individual company’s patents across the technology categories, a very clear picture emerges of the relative strengths and weaknesses of a company’s technology (see Figure5). This level of analysis can then drive decisions around investments and acquisitions for your own company, or may suggest areas of attack with regard to a competitor.

As demonstrated, a patent landscape is a vital element in a business strategy and delivers actionable intelligence derived from an expert ability to organize, search, aggregate and interpret the patent landscape. The result is meaningful and provides detailed information on which you can confidently base your strategic business decisions.

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Résumé

William (Bill) Betten, Medical Technology Director, TechInsights

bbetten@techinsights.com

Bill is responsible for Business Development activities associated with IP management, Business/Technical Intelligence and technology direction for medical devices. TechInsights (www.techinsights.com) provides sophisticated information services, consulting, and management software to technology companies seeking to leverage and protect their technology and intellectual property assets. Bill has led product development teams in fields as diverse as aerospace and defense, semiconductors, transportation, financial systems, data storage, and medical devices with specific medical experience in physiological monitoring, hearing aids, telemedicine, perfusion systems, medical imaging, and PACS. Bill holds BSPhysics, BSEE, and MSEE degrees. TechInsights (www.techinsights.com)  provides sophisticated information services, consulting, and management software to technology companies seeking to leverage and protect their technology and intellectual property assets.