The ability of IP to protect innovation is well-known, but IP is not simply about protecting your own rights and waiting for royalties to roll in, or defending yourself against competitors who get too close. There is a wider IP landscape. Common questions from clients include:
Which technologies are my competitors researching?
Can I prevent patent/trade mark infringements before they even hit the market?
How litigious is company X?
Are the patents which I’m considering buying any good?
The answers to all these questions can be obtained through use of the intellectual property systems. These systems contain a wealth of information, which is nearly all publicly available, and cost-effectively searchable. If you know how to harness the data, it’s a fantastic knowledge-base and commercial resource.
Examples of services we can offer in this connection are:-
- We can monitor registers of IP rights for details of applications filed in the name of particular competitors. If a filing is found which looks problematic, the filing can be evaluated, and monitored. It can be considered at an early stage whether the application should be challenged or whether it might be more appropriate to negotiate hard on a licence. In some instances, in-depth due diligence can be conducted to ascertain a patent’s true purchase or investment value.
- Trade mark, patent and design filings are also an indication of where potential infringements of your rights might arise from. People often file for protection at quite an early stage in the lifecycle of a product, and so challenges made at this point can be very effective at nipping a problem in the bud.
- Patent landscaping and Freedom to Operate studies are useful in determining where R&D resources might most profitably be directed. If this is done properly, it can provide useful intelligence both on who is active in what technical area and on where there are patent thickets, or conversely very few patents.
- On the brand protection side, monitoring registers for filing of new domain names and new company names can be effective in preventing infringements occurring at a really early stage. For many people about to enter into a new business, registering the domain name or the company name is the very first step that they take. Typically, registration of domain names and company names will be put in place months before a business actually starts trading. Being able to make objections to incorporation of companies under a given name or a given domain name, more or less as soon as they are applied for, often leads a company to be able to make a targeted objection before a competitor even gets off the ground. At this point in time, the business owners often have very little commitment or investment in the name, meaning they are much more likely to make a quick and painless swap to another identity.
- Judicious use of the IP systems also enables you to find out about competitors you didn’t know you had. Patent applications are allocated a classification according to the technical field of the invention concerned. Similarly, trade mark applications will cover a particular class or classes, which relates to the commercial/technical field of the right owner. Watching for details of patent applications filed within a given classification, can be particularly useful to find competitors, potential takeover targets or licensees which you didn’t know existed. On the trade mark side, it can warn you of the existence of new entrants to the market and to the existence of competitors who are seeking monopolies in terms which you consider quite generic, and which may affect your ability legitimately to describe your products.
- We can now research a company’s litigation history. Reviewing details of oppositions, and cases filed at the Boards of Appeal, Courts throughout Europe and wider afield, can enable us to build up quite a detailed picture of how litigious a given company is and how aggressively they protect their rights. This can be crucial in deciding how to handle conflicts/negotiations with a given company.
- If you are concerned about misuse of your brand on the internet, we can put in place advanced brand-monitoring services. Alternatively, we can set up a portfolio of alerts should anything pop up which gives cause for concern.
By Cathy Ayers
By Nick Bennett