2017 USPTO stats show a slight increase in patent grants compared to 2016. However, fewer patent applications are being published. Why? These numbers illustrate a shift in mindset towards patent applications among intellectual property (IP) teams that has appeared in recent years.
In the past, companies often proved themselves to be leading innovators by publishing as many patents possible. (Think of the wave of patent applications by China in the 1990s.) Two factors largely contributed to this trend. The first being that a large patent portfolio looked impressive at face value; one would think that a company with thousands of patents must be a front-runner of innovation. Secondly, as companies invested more heavily in internal R&D and created new inventions, they wanted to protect their work from competitors. In other words, IP teams preferred to be overly cautious and excessively patent all aspects of their technologies rather than risk losing their property and potential profits. However, as time went on, companies and research institutions began to switch mindsets by prioritizing patent quality over quantity. This ultimately became a more strategic and financially-savvy approach to innovation.
Why should teams focus on patent quality over quantity?
Generally speaking, if a company files fewer patent applications in one year compared to years prior, this is an indicator that its innovation team has thought through an IP strategy and aligned its plans with broader company goals. As a result, companies devote time and resources to protecting smaller, more robust portfolios, which increases the odds of profiting off of solid inventions. Focusing on key patents also ensures that IP teams know which ones they need to stay up-to-date on for renewals in order to maintain that profitability over time. Once teams know which patents they want to prioritize, the question then becomes how to organize and keep track of them.
How can IP teams effectively manage their portfolios and patent applications?
One of the main reasons why companies file patents is to maximize the return on investment of their R&D initiatives. This supports the argument for focusing on quality of patents over quantity. While filing thousands of patents per year may make a company seem like they are cranking out innovations and new technologies, this also results in IP teams having to manage an exponentially growing, cumbersome portfolio. Attempting to accomplish this task without a clear strategy or organizational system can bog IP teams down and cause them to spend time on patents that, in the end, may have little to no value to the company. Therefore, teams must focus on mapping out their company’s IP lifecycles to ensure that they are spending their time on filing and protecting their patents correctly and on time.
To support this process, innovation teams invest in IP software solutions that manage invention disclosures, docketing, and annuities. These tools automate organizational tasks, which helps eliminate the risk of costly clerical errors (such as missing a patent renewal deadline). As a result, patent attorneys can spend less time on manual data entry and sorting through countless spreadsheets and, instead, manage a clean, organized portfolio.
Innovation teams can also use additional software solutions to further protect their IP. For example, Wellspring’s technology scouting and search tools provide teams with insight into the patents being filed by companies and innovators around the world. Not only does this allow teams to see what others are creating and find potential collaborators; attorneys can use the software to ensure that external innovators are not infringing on their trademarks and patents.
In the end, efficient management of one’s IP allows innovators and companies to develop clear IP strategies, make informed decisions about their patents, and determine how to maximize potential profits from their portfolios. Learn more about how you can accomplish this with Wellspring’s IP management solutions here.