“Innovation Searches” help businesses leverage the value of their patents

Companies and inventors can monetize their intellectual property by conducting innovation searches – where existing patent databases are searched to identify new business areas or technical trends, as long as the search is performed in a very systematic and well-structured manner with a mind of gaining and understanding those valuable technical information to be gathered. In particular, as such a search is like so-called finding a needle in a haystack and can only be successful, if the scope is well-defined upfront, as the pool of available patent publications worldwide is growing extensively every day. It must be said that a typical prior art search does not lead to innovations in any case.

This article will detail specific ways innovation searches can be conducted.

Refocus your business model

Companies and inventors can identify new but similar applications in future markets for their existing product range and knowhow in order to meet changing market requirements. Here, they can identify strong growing technical fields by analyzing the number and rate of newly filed patent applications. A search for similar applications and crossover technologies can be conducted by systematic keyword searches.

Examples include:

  • Where manufacturers of gears for conventional cumbustion engines shifted their business model to gears for windpower systems. Their knowledge of oil pumps used in conventional combustion engines was transferred to cooling pumps for battery charging technologies and medical devices.
  • Where the paper industry has used paper and paper-based materials as environmentally friendly packaging material instead of synthetics.

Identify higher-value products

Companies and investors can identify higher-value products in order to build on their existing product range.  Here you would identify recently filed patent applications in growing and adjacent technical segments. You would search for those applications using the existing product range as a starting point for further developments using systematic keyword searches.

Examples include:

  • Use of gelatine not only as an additive in the foodstuff industry – but also as an environmentally – friendly packaging material replacing synthetics.
  • Where a manufacturer of non-woven sheet material becomes aware of using non wovens as filter elements in coffee capsules instead of using injection moulded filter elements.
  • The distribution of razor blades for established razor systems instead of distributing only individual blades.

Find generic products

Companies and investors can identify established cashcows which are inexpensive and easy to implement by analyzing patent databases in own or adjacent technical fields for valuable patents which have recently become free prior art. Here, products protected only in foreign markets can also be found.

Examples include:

  • Nestle patents from the early 1990s which became free prior art around 2010, triggering several market players to offer Nespresso compatible capsules.
  • Generic medicaments provided by the generics industry
  • Expired patents protecting Gardena quick release
  • Replacement brush heads for the Oral-B power toothbrush
  • Paper clips and inline skates that have only been protected in the United States
  • Filings from Chinese applicants being subsidized by the Chinese government

Profit from patent literature

Companies and investors can utilize patent databases to identify new trends and product improvments for profit increase and product life cycle extension.  This effort involves systematic scanning of patent applications in distant or similar technical fiels for any kinds of new trends and new technilogies (e.g., by keywords).

Examples include:

  • Optimising machine tools on the basis of user data known from the automotive industry.
  • Transferring the idea of a coffee machine using an integrated app for ordering new capsules to a toothbrooth automatically ordering new toothbrush heads when necessary.
  • Image recognition using artificial intelligence (tagging in image databases, motion detection, error detection in production processes, and crime prevention).
  • Speech recognition (voice control, user authentification).

Recruit high potentials

Companies and investors can identify high-potential scientists or engineers of competitors for

  • Targeted enticement and/or
  • Weakening your competitors and/or
  • Exploiting new fields of activity.

Examples include:

  • Analyzing and scoring published inventor data about industrial property rights of competitors.
  • The headhunting of a successful inventor from GEA by one of their strongest competitors, Textor Bayern München, regularly poaching players from other teams to strengthen their own team and weaken other teams.

Find potential technological partners

Companies and investors can identify potential technological partners further processing your existing product range to higher-value products.  This involves identifying recently filed patent applications in growing and adjacent technical segments – and searching for those applicants using the existing product range as starting point for further developments e.g., by systematic keyword searches (ideally to be linked to identifying higher-value products).

Examples include:

  • Joint market entry of candle producer CupCandle and gelatine supplier Gelitta.
  • Cooperation between coffee capsule manufacturer k-Fee and TESA Scribos, a specialist in forgery protection.

Reveal refocussing of competitors

Companies and investors can reveal if one of their competitors refocuses his product portfolio on new market areas. This includes analyzing recent patent activities of your competitors and their recent developments in adjacent or new technical fields.

Examples include:

  • Apple‘s electric car initiative.
  • Automotive supply industry investing massively in autonomous driving.
  • Paper manufacturer Nokia starts to build cell phones in 1980s.

Protect your products

Companies and investors can protect their products and elongate their life cycle – and therefore build up minefields for your competitors. This involves systematic scanning of patents and patent applications in the relevant technical field, including systematically filling up all innovation and disclosure gaps between identified prior art.

An example:

  • Nestle transferred the sealing between coffee capsule flange and the brewing chamber from the brewing chamber parts to the capsules flange after their base patents on the capsule expired. The new solution served as the basis for new patents protecting the entire system for another 20 years. Other market participants gained protection for integrated (one-piece) sealings providing better recyclability and cheaper manufacturing.

Reveal technical trends in your business field

Companies and investors can reveal new technical trends occuring in their business field.  This involves analyzing recent patent activies claiming further developments in the technical field of the existing product portfolio.

An example:

  • Johnson Controls became an important player concerning Head-Up-Displays as further development of conventional dashboards. Here, integration of airbags was a huge selling point for suppliers of car interior linings.

Identify new business models

Companies and investors can identify new business models by analyzing US patent databases for business methods.  In the US, in contrast to European patent law, protecting and claiming new business methods is allowed. Consequently, those new business methods and models can be identified by analyzing US patent databases – in particular, patent applications dealing e.g. with new types of e-commerce, insurance, banking and tax compliance

Identify geographic trends

Companies and investors can identify geographic trends in their business segments in order to find/skip foreign markets. This involves identifying strategic countries of your competitors, analyzing whether patent activites in the technical field of your product portfolios shift to new countries.

Examples include:

  • China and India are becoming huge sales markets for the European luxury car industry.
  • After China, India is becoming increasingly important as a new production location and sales market for the pharmaceutical industry.
  • The Japanese market is becoming less interesting for US and European firms.

Identify new  design trends

Companies and investors can identify where new design trends will rise in their market or are promoted by trendsetters.  This involves analyzing whether recent design applications claiming products in specific market segments or recent design applications from trendsetters is indicative of future design trends or product ranges.

An example:

  • Nestlé filed several early design applications for coffee capsules showing their core product.


Please note that we will address each point above – in greater detail – In future articles.