In a marketplace such as New Zealand, we are physically
isolated from most of our international competitors and therefore
need to utilise every tool at our disposal to ensure success in the
Strategic use of Intellectual Property
One such tool is the strategic use of intellectual property (IP)
information, which can supplement your own market research. While
many businesses are usually well informed as to the current state
of the market and what their competitors are presently doing, it is
difficult to ascertain what the future may hold, and thus your
research focus. The use of IP information can provide you with the
leverage to make informed business decisions regarding your current
and future research focus.
The filing of a patent application represents the culmination of
the research and development efforts of the inventors. Regardless
of whether the application is part of an ongoing project or not, it
does represent a snapshot of the current research being undertaken
by a company.
Indication of future market direction
The current state of research (as exemplified by a patent
application) is not always indicative of a company's current
market output. It is very rare that the technology that is the
subject of a patent application is ready to enter the market once
the patent application has been filed. It usually takes several
months or even years before the company is ready to launch their
Thus, by closely reviewing the particular details of a patent
application by a particular company, it is possible to get an
indication of the future market direction of that company. You may
be able to position yourself accordingly, whether by commencing a
research program of similar focus to your competitors, or by
avoiding that particular market altogether.
So what information about the patent application is readily
accessible? As a matter of course, in most countries, including New
Zealand, basic bibliographic details associated with the patent
application are published upon filing.
It is important to appreciate that in most countries the
contents of the patent application, the "complete
specification" [the document that fully describes the
invention], is not usually available until at least 18 months after
filing. New Zealand is a little different, in that the complete
specification is not available until the patent application has
accepted by the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand.
Nonetheless, the basic bibliographic details of the patent
application can be a treasure trove of useful information, and
provides a degree of knowledge as to the intentions of
Probably the single most valuable detail that can be extracted
from the information that is publicly available is the
International Patent Classification code or IPC. The IPC is a
classification system used by Patent Offices worldwide to classify
the invention according to its technology. In many respects, it can
be a particularly detailed breakdown of technology. While it may
not be able to provide an indication as to the particular details
of the technology, by knowing the IPC of a patent application, one
can determine its approximate subject matter.
The bibliographic details also list the inventors of the patent
application. With a little research, it may be possible to
determine their research speciality and thus the potential nature
of the patent application.
Some countries make correspondence between applicant and their
respective Patent Office publicly available. Examining these allows
you an insight into the important aspects of the invention being
patented, and how the patent office is treating your
competitors' patent application.
Where you should focus your research
The judicious use of this IP information allows you to make
informed decisions as to what and where you should focus your
research. In many instances, it may not be beneficial to invest
research and development funds into a technology area into which
your competitor is already devoting some effort.
Instead, you could identify and potentially exploit a new
technology area that has been overlooked by your competitors. This
not only makes your spending on research and development more
efficient, but potentially allows you to identify technology that
may become your edge in the market by virtue of being the first to
exploit and possibly protect the technology.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
James and Wells is the 2009 New Zealand Law Awards winner of
the Intellectual Property Law Award for excellence in client
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