How does IP data from patents supercharge R&D?



“The US patent system adds fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.”- Abraham Lincoln.

Although many patent critics argue that patents hinder innovation, research suggests the opposite. The sole purpose of a patent is to prevent others from selling or using your invention. Having an invention protected by a patent means competitors have to work around an existing technology to produce something novel—a process that would surely foster new ideas.

According to Gene Quinn, Founder of IPWatchdog, “Innovation is about busting through the brick wall, or going around the brick wall. Because of the existence of that brick wall, a paradigm shift is necessary... and that is what leads to true innovation.”

Research by Eaton and Kortum suggests that eliminating patent protection would reduce R&D and economic growth. Furthermore, research by Arora, Ceccagnoli and Cohen shows that although not all innovations are worth patenting—patents are valuable for a subset of innovations and do provide incentives for R&D. 

Patents contain technical information, not available elsewhere

Patents fit at every stage of R&D, from ideation to commercialisation. Patents are an important source of technical information. Engineers should read patents during the innovation process to understand R&D trends, emerging technologies and white spaces. According to a survey by nature, 60% of all patent readers and 72% of those reading for scientific reasons reported that they found useful scientific information, in the most recent patent read in their field. Biotech respondents praised patents as an underutilised scientific resource and an indispensable adjunct to the primary scientific literature. Some of the respondents emphasised that it is at least possible to find substantial scientific value in the patent literature, such as information that is unavailable in scientific literature.

Patent data helps you keep up with technological advancements

Patents are typically granted at a later stage of the R&D process but looking at patent literature should start at ideation. If you have an idea, it may be worthwhile checking whether a patented invention covers it. Looking at patent information prevents you from duplicating effort, and equips you to improve your invention and build around an existing patent. One study reveals that 88% of US, European and Japanese businesses rely on the information disclosed in patents to keep up with technology advances and direct their own R&D efforts. Perhaps there is an alternative market or a new use for your invention that you haven’t considered.

Patents increase the ROI of your R&D efforts

Checking patent data after you have applied for a patent is equally important because you can see whether other companies have built on your technology. A competitor that has done so may be a potential collaborator or licensee, opening doors to new revenue streams. According to a study by Arora, Ceccagnoli and Cohen, the patent premium for innovations that were patented is substantial. Firms earn, on average, a 50% premium over the no patenting case—ranging from 60% in the health-related industries to about 40% in electronics.

How can you use patent data to improve your invention?

Before you apply for a patent, it’s important to consider whether your invention is patentable. To fulfil patentability requirements in the US, you must ensure your invention is novel and non-obvious to a person of ordinary skill in your field. This differs slightly in Europe, where the invention must show an inventive step and be capable of industrial application (rather than just satisfying the obviousness requirement).

Reading other patents is useful for understanding whether your invention is patentable. Understanding why a patent may have been rejected can reveal what to avoid when applying for your own patent. As a technical expert, you can read the prior art in patents to assess whether your invention is non-obvious and shows an inventive step. 

Download the full 19-page eBook: using patent data to beat markets and competitors

This guide covers:

  • How to use patent data at every stage of the R&D life cycle
  • How patent data can be used to unlock new opportunities
  • How to use patent data to assess the patentability of your invention

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The R&D guide on using patent data