In 1993 I joined Derwent Information and by 1994 had put together a patents and competitive intelligence presentation that I would eventually give as far away from my home base as Fukuoka, Japan. My approach was to target my host company and tell them something about themselves that I should not know. On one early presentation in 1994, I almost fell into a credibility trap that I never forgot or repeated moving forward. At American Cyanamid in Princeton, NJ, I was about to present a chart that showed a steep decline in patenting activity as a sign American Cyanamid was de-emphasizing an area of research. When I presented the chart – and fortunately before I spoke – a member of the audience explained that the decline happened because American Cyanamid had found the compounds with which it would move forward in the market, and that was the reason it had less patents – they had moved beyond the stage where they needed to patent a whole bunch of potential options. The event emphasized the importance of always asking the question “How might the opposite be true?” when making a strategic assumption.
An issue with patent analytics on which the consumer must always beware is a lack of investigative rigor that accompanies reports. You need to be on your guard. Things I have seen over the years:
- A company that thought a competitor had nine patents in an area where they had 112 – they only searched on one variation of the company name when there were six
- An interpretation that NEC was patenting over 10 times as much as AT&T – analyst ranked JP priorities against US priorities without normalizing
- Pharmaceutical company dominates others in the field – no, results should have been viewed as logarithmic and not linear, market shows it to be quite contested
- High tech competitor hardly has any patents in a technology – no, they just don’t describe the technology by the same name the analyst used to set up the search
- This company makes a good licensing prospect because of all the citations – might have been true three to six years ago when all those citations actually happened
Whenever you see information in a patent landscape report, and before you make a decision based upon that information, verify that it is actually true. Dig a little or a lot deeper.
(This is number 47 in our list of IP mistakes and how to avoid them.)
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