Five insights from any IP landscape to make your forecasts brilliant

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With intellectual property (IP) analysis so popular it is now taught in schools, and a growing collection of free IP landscape reports available for business planning made available by WIPO, more business leaders should be using these intelligence tools to develop business insights.

Here are 5 predictive IP insights from landscaping visualizations (that you can see fairly quickly) to help shape up your R&D planning, patent portfolio development or market planning:

1. Who are the IP landscape leaders?

Companies and organizations from around the world are the subjects of any competitive analysis. But in landscaping you want to know, who has the largest portfolio? The strongest? A simple way of depicting this intelligence is to rank firms by the number of patent, scientific and business publications across a common time period, as seen in the Intellar landscape map above. More-active firms are often better capitalized, so it helps to look at tiers of organizations to avoid size bias. Which entities lead in the 100-or-more publications segment? How about with 50-99 publications? And of course, who catches the eye among startups with laser-focused patent assets?

It is often helpful to evaluate landscape players based on industry sectors. Where do competitor organizations rank in the innovation conversation? How about customer organizations? Might one industry’s players be directing the evolution of patenting, much more than another? Straight answers to these simple questions can help identify future strategic partners and acquisition targets. Simple analytic charts can then be clipped and shared within executive presentations and periodic current awareness newsletters.

2. What are the new technologies?

Landscape maps are typically arranged by clusters of innovation areas and categories. Many patent-only landscapes are divided using the Cooperative Patent Classification system. While this has the advantage of covering many essential technologies, it is a deeply-hierarchical system of complex codes & names that do not always display well. It is often better to reduce visual clutter with a simpler categorization system of features and benefits. In our example landscape map, Intellar applies using machine learning based on algorithmic and expert rules. But no matter how technologies are clustered in your IP analysis, it is the relationship between publishing activity (frequency and growth) and innovation topics (areas and categories) that conveys where technology development is competitively dense or (un)attractively sparse.

3. Where’s the market growth?

When many firms are practicing a single technology, or when a single market-leading firm is intensively patenting, it is evidence of future expected market growth. Now the landscape viewer can begin to drill down to learn, just how far are we from explosive success (or dismal failure)?

Look at trends across the four major IP document types (global patents, applications, literature and/or news) within each area or category for timing impacts to become clearer. Just see patent applications, but not patents, from most firms? You are probably looking at an emerging technology area (patent applications are hidden for 18 months before publishing, even then it takes another 2-5 years to get a granted patent). Spot a few granted patents plus many applications in the same category, from just 1-2 firms? That may indicate a disruptive technology with early emerging leaders. Deeper review is warranted, to predict the winner’s payback and invest early if the opportunity remains attractive.

4. Any innovation white spaces?

Gaps in the IP landscape are known as white spaces. Really, they are categories you knew to screen for in advance, but for the moment there isn’t much there. Are these just bad opportunities? Maybe there have been poor economies of scale or high switching costs. But financial barriers can disappear over time; especially when regulation changes, a business model is re-imagined or a key value chain player is dis-intermediated. This part of the landscape may need to be monitored to see if an empty white space will become a compelling blue ocean.

Spotting white spaces is straightforward in the Intellar landscape map. Which categories (columns) show minimal activity across larger firms? Competitors? Suppliers? These categories may be places for you to innovate or extend product development. Often it is good to test these ideas against the voice of the customer. When market pull meets a technology gap, disruptive innovation emerges.

You can also find white spaces in an organization’s portfolio (row). Which portfolio categories have low/no activity? Does that seem strange for an organization of that size/type? Are other smaller organizations in fact active in categories that a larger competitor is not in – but should be? These are places to acquire patents or license technology to defend against future threats from that entity. Or, you may decide to develop new patents, bolstering your own IP portfolio to gain strategic freedom to operate in key countries (the right to practice a technology without a legal challenge).

5. Which IP landscape strategies are changing?

Looking at a landscape across differing time periods reveals how priorities change, for both organizations and technologies. Comparing changes across 2-5 year bands (depending on how fast your innovation area evolves) can quickly shape assumptions about future trends. Strategic insights from such time-slice comparisons can predict growing venture investment, anticipate technology obsolescence and project patent abandonment. When including scientific literature in your IP landscape, time-slicing helps forecast the pace of commercialization as more quantifiable data is published. When business news is included, you can begin to spot merger & acquisition (M&A) possibilities by aligning organizational interests across product launches, partnerships and ventures.

Landscaping visualizations bring these five big insights together in a unified image. Most landscapes are interactive, ready to be filtered and explored. The best landscapes link to the underlying data, to not only help you see the strategic IP relationships but also to get underneath the trends to the next big patent or disruptive technology. From the macro to the micro, an IP landscape helps you set and share priorities to succeed in the business of technology.