IPR&D Information Adventurers Blog

R&D and Patent Alerts
Part 1: Are patent watches worth the money?

Alerting, or monitoring as its sometimes referred to, is essential for many reasons. When done right it’s a major weapon in a company’s arsenal. However, when done wrong, it’s a huge waste of money as gaining access to monitoring processes and databases – in the hope that they might deliver value – is expensive. The reality is that companies often go through the motions of patent watches with little compliance to their business priorities, and a limited understanding of the real power it holds.

In theory, setting up an R&D or patent watch is simple. You select a system to power the alerts, the subsequent alerts are shared with internal reviewers and their input is then used to help the business make decisions on strategy, identify critical third-party patents, inspire innovation and give the company a clear view on their competitive landscape.

What we frequently see in the industry is very different to this. Someone takes it upon themselves to set up expensive databases to drive the patent watch, but the internal reviewers then have little motivation to be compliant to the needs of the business – to assess the output, and give their inputs as an addition to their main role. This in turn leads to critical patents being missed and not having a full picture and a consolidated view on the competition. This scenario is all too common so some companies choose to have no alerting at all, rather than spend money on an unused resource. A powerful and critical tool is therefore ignored or misused by many companies.

This series of posts will introduce the topic of alerting, define the quality factors that make up a successful alert, investigate a use case in more detail to highlight the real-life benefits that can be achieved, and finally, discuss the need for alerting and the powerful resource that can result from it.  We will systematically look at the topic of alerting and introduce you to AQI (Alert Quality Index) and help to highlight that precision is the key driver in successful patent alerts. In my experience, most companies have established excellent solutions to searching needs, docketing, drafting, etc. However, the critical resource that is alerting still has much room for improvement!

So, what do we mean by alerting? 

Essentially, we are talking about the identification of patents, literature, news articles, product launch information and other new information types, for a pre-prescribed list of criteria of interest and importance to the organisation. These can be anything from focussing on a specific type of technology, through to monitoring the activities of core competitors and everything in between.

But why do we need this alerting, I hear you ask?  In fact, the reasons for conducting alerts is almost as varied as the list of criteria and data sources that can be used in them. There are three significant use cases for alerting – for opposition purposes, current awareness, and continuously-updated competitive intelligence and landscapes. Some of the main reasons alerting is carried out are obvious, such as to identify and track critical patents for post-grant opposition purposes. Others are perhaps a little less obvious, but if done correctly are equally as important to a company.

Why do we do it?

The use case of providing timely and accurate current awareness for researchers, engineers, and the R&D community is often under appreciated. Having this information delivered in a structured, timely fashion can help guide ideation, creativity, innovation and at times stop people going down the proverbial ‘rabbit hole’ and spending company dollars unnecessarily.

Similarly, continuous monitoring of key competitors can allow a company to react more quickly and efficiently to new market developments.  The old adage of ‘knowledge is power’ applies here, as making key strategic decisions without knowledge of the competitive landscape can be both costly and foolhardy for the individual decision makers or the company as a whole.

Another use case is identifying and monitoring new and interesting developments in key technology areas for acquisition, licensing or partnership. Keeping abreast of new trends and potentially disruptive technologies allows companies to steal a march on their competitors. Alerting is a useful tool in facilitating this in a structured and controlled way, rather than more ad hoc, opportunistic options.

Sharing the knowledge

Whatever the use case, the beneficial impact to the company can be increased exponentially if the output of the alerts is then used to create a curated repository that enables people to interrogate the data for changes over time, identify trends, define strategy, and so on. The information remains useful beyond the point where users receive it as ‘new’ for the first time.

All the above are great, in principle, but too often we see the same issues cropping up with alerts across all industry sectors. A frequent one is the lack of compliance within a company in relation to the alerts. When set up specifically to serve a defined purpose, they offer excellent value to stakeholders and enable decision makers to act – but if recipients aren’t even looking at them, what’s the point? Maintaining alerts can be tiresome, containing huge data sets with backlogs to be reviewed, further exacerbating the issue and offsetting any potential benefits to be gained.

So the key is to ensure that alerts are set up properly, achieve the primary objectives of stakeholders, and offer close synergy with other processes in the stakeholder’s roles, such as searches or landscape studies. The alerts should then be tracked to include a compliance element and allow for re-use and interrogation: why should stakeholders need to touch a patent three or four times to answer different questions, when once should suffice? At the same time, alerting needs to be less onerous for stakeholders. As I am sure you will all agree, this is no easy task!

Coming up

In the next post in the series, we aim to tackle this dilemma by looking at what makes a perfect patent watch and how to unlock the potential of alerting, by making the data work for the company. All this, while making the process robust, repeatable and trackable, and at the same time less time consuming for stakeholders. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

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