Monthly Archives: December 2010

My Gift to You: Free (or almost free) Patent Searching and Analysis Tools

Lots of free or almost free patent search tools exist today.

Happy Holidays everyone!  I woke up this morning to the Christmas sunrise over Miami Beach on Christmas morning.  Having grown up in this town–where Christmas means a trip to the beach, not the joy of new ice skates–I am feeling a whole lot of holiday spirit.  This made me realize that I have been meaning to respond to some inquiries folks have made about patent searching tools that I use in my daily IP Strategy work.   Since most of these are free (or almost) free, consider this your holiday gift from me!

I hear it now:  “Free?  Did she say free?  But, such and such company wants to charge me $1500 a month, which is a much better deal than my lawyers charge me for monitoring patents in my business space on an ongoing basis.  And, this consultant offered to do a whitespace analysis that would solve all my innovation issues for $20K, which seemed like a deal, given how much time he said it would save my team so that we could get our new product lines to market so much faster.”

Certainly, in the last few years, there have been countless business models that have sprung up to help business professionals navigate the virtual morass of patent information that resulted from increased transparency of issued patents and published patent applications emanating from the dozens of established patent systems in the world.  As more countries are developing modern patent systems, the information volume only increases as their documents come online.  This overload of data has lead to entrepreneurial activities focused on the analysis of the data, effectively looking at the situation as a data volume problem, not an information retrieval problem.  As I have written about before, I think most of these products are at best a waste of your money and, at worst dangerous because reliance on the wrong conclusions can take your business down the wrong path.

But this blog post is not about the problems with existing data and analysis vendors and products, this blog post is about how to reduce your reliance on their products, either partially or entirely using free or almost free products.  Sure, the US Patent Office website has been free for years, but it is currently not user-friendly, nor is it possible for a layman to download information.  I expect that Google Patent Search will become easier to use as time goes on, especially as the company works more closely with the US Patent Office, but right now it is also not possible to download files, and am I not entirely comfortable with the use of Google’s search algorithm’s to properly parse the typically arcane legal language of patents (and wonder if I ever will be). Continue reading

Patent “Expert” Opinion on Reasons for Google Tender Offer for Groupon Reveals Fundamental Problems with IP Professionals

IP Experts think it's all about them which allows business to marginalize IP issues

After several years of writing about how business leaders need to wrest control of their IP matters from lawyers, today brought a revelation that illuminated why this seems to be such a hard point to get across.  It should be a no brainer:  it has been shown time and time again that when a company aligns its IP strategy with its business strategy, value creation opportunities abound.  So, why is it so hard to get business people to sign onto something that is unquestionably in the best interests of their shareholders?  It’s simple–patent experts wholly lack credibility with business people on these issues.  This lack of credibility is compounded by the fact that these experts are given a forum to trumpet these views through use of their firms’ large marketing budgets, as well as by haphazard journalists who give them a forum to expound their self-interested views without counterpoint.

To this end, my realization was caused by a blog post from my friend Patrick Anderson, the proprietor of the great GameTime IP blog.  He posted an excerpt of an article in the National Law Journal, authored by Amanda Bronsted, where Patrick Arnold, a patent attorney at the Chicago law firm McAndrews, Held and Malloy, posited why Google would have bid $6 billion for Groupon, a company with only a limited track record of business success.  Mr. Arnold opined that the reason that Google offered so much for Groupon was due to the fact that Groupon owns patents related to its method of doing business.  Specifically, the article went as  follows:

NLJ: Google’s $6 billion offer is awfully high for a company founded two years ago. What do you think?

PA: My first thought was somebody probably looked at the technology and the patents closely, and felt like Groupon was in a pretty good position and had a strong patent and/or patent portfolio. I would also imagine…that Groupon has at least one patent and maybe others that Google has done some internal analysis of and said, ‘That’s a good patent and would be good for stopping others from getting into the business.’

via Expert: Groupon’s Appeal to Google Was Likely Patent-Related.

Continue reading

How Patent Whitespace Analysis Can Set a Company Up for Sustainable Failure

Reliance on patent whitespace analysis to drive innovation decision-making can signal likely failure.

I spent a few days last week at the Innovation Cubed Conference in Orlando.  While there, I heard two instances of use of a term that I absolutely hate, at least when it is used by innovation professionals to define in some manner the innovation processes of their respective organizations.   This word is:


Not only do I hate this phrase, I think that companies that utilize patent (or IP) whitespace analysis to define their product and technology development pathways are quite possibly setting themselves up for failure.  And, it’s bad enough that a single innovation project might fail as a result of the faulty data inputs that can occur from relying on whitespace assessments, but I think that most corporate processes incorporating patent whitespace analysis are based upon faulty methodology, thus setting the organization up for sustainable failure.

For the uninitiated, when applied to the patent world, the term “whitespace” designates an analysis methodology that identifies the absence of patents in a particular product or technology area as a primary driver of innovation decision-making.  This term has been used for some years by patent and business professionals alike to provide information about whether one can obtain patents and whether patent liability might result if the inquiring company moves into one or more technology areas.  Many vendors and consultants have developed sophisticated sales and marketing collateral that demonstrate how their company’s whitespace analysis can effectively serve as the proverbial “magic bullet”  for will solve your innovation problems–and, what corporate team responsible for identifying new product and technologies would not want such a tool?  As a result, patent whitespace analysis has emerged as a common front-end innovation tool at many companies.

Patent whitespace analysis is no doubt an important aspect of any innovation assessment:  if a company is introducing a new product or technology, it needs to know at an early stage whether it can own the fruits of its innovation efforts, and whether it might be sued for infringement by a third party.  I have no beef with use of whitespace analysis in innovation processes; to the contrary, many of you know that I am indeed a strong advocate of putting patent expertise in the front end of innovation processes.  (Here is a new article that I wrote on how patent landscaping can improve the ROI of innovation processes.)

But what I recommend is not the traditional form of patent whitespace analysis where the decision making process follows along along the lines of “hey, there are no patents over here, let’s innovate in this direction.” Instead, I say that whitespace is only relevant when–and only when–a business case has been properly formulated and one is choosing among various innovation opportunities.   In other words, whitespace analysis should only be used to validate, not to drive, innovation pathways. Continue reading