Computer technology offers a raft of new opportunities for traditional manufacturing companies. However, it also opens new challenges since traditional companies may face new competition unless they embrace technological advancements in their sector.
The EPO Annual Report 2015 showed that the top five applicants for patent applications in the field of engines, pumps and turbines (a traditional manufacturing sector) accounted for 37% of all patent applications filed in Europe. In computer technology, by contrast, the top five applicants accounted for only 19% of new patent applications. This tells us what we already knew, which is that computer technology is a more diverse field, with fewer dominant players and more companies that are new to the market.
Traditional manufacturing companies may currently be in a strong position within their industry. However, this picture may change unless they are willing to keep pace with technological advancements. The growth opportunities afforded by industry 4.0 technologies, most notably the internet of things, are real and have been well documented1. A recent survey2 showed that the willingness of companies to take these developments seriously is varied however. Whilst very large manufacturing companies and multinational groups already believe that industry 4.0 will have a very important impact on their business, small and medium-sized companies do not yet consider it to be of great relevance.
Large manufacturing companies are already recognising the need to invest in emerging computer technologies in order to take advantage of the opportunities offered by industry 4.0 and to mitigate risks presented by new competitors from the computer technology field. SMEs also need to develop an IP strategy that will take account of this new intersection between traditional technologies and software. Early action is required to stake a claim within this quickly developing technology field before it becomes congested by other right holders. This will mean competing against a broader range of competitors, and against different types of companies, from what they have become accustomed to doing.
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