The best competitive intelligence will depend on IP analysis


A number of interviews with customers or suppliers takes place, anecdotal evidence from employees who previously worked for various competitors is collected, some Google searches are carried out and competitors' websites are checked. If there is budget, reports from analysts are purchased and reviewed. At which point, most avenues of enquiry are exhausted. Then, a competitive analysis document with some points of advice is produced and the competitor tracking exercise often ends there, until the next time. If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. 

Competitive research versus competitive intelligence

Of course, as we know, this is not really competitive ‘intelligence.’ We have to go at least one step further to elevate the activity from one-off, ad-hoc competitive research to one that produces competitive intelligence. As Investopedia explains: “While most companies can find substantial information about their competitors online, competitive intelligence goes way beyond merely trawling the Internet, on the premise that the most valuable information is seldom – if  ever – easily accessible online. A typical competitive intelligence study includes information and analysis from numerous sources. These include the news media, customer and competitor interviews, industry experts, trade shows and conferences, government records and public filings.”

Four often cited ‘common goals’ of competitive intelligence include:

  1. Detecting competitive threats
  2. Eliminating or lessening surprises
  3. Enhancing competitive advantage by lessening reaction time
  4. Finding new opportunities

By combining these goals with the sources available, we are clearly much closer to a comprehensive competitive intelligence review.

The headache of competitive intelligence

This approach takes into account numerous different sources, but there are, of course, a number of drawbacks. The amount of information available on each individual competitor will vary significantly, making it rather difficult to draw direct comparisons between all of them, and it's even harder to do this based on a data-led approach.

It is also extremely time consuming. Unfortunately, for many organizations, this often means that the activity is put on the back burner - and then carried out far too late. It only becomes a priority again when there are rumblings of a seismic shift taking place in the market. By this stage, the horse has bolted.

Finally, of course, it is expensive. It is not possible to keep track of every website, product, event, or piece of collateral relating to a particular industry, everywhere in the world. Without a huge budget for this, vital information is inevitably going to be missed.


The strengths of IP Analysis in competitive intelligence

IP analysis - and by this we mean taking all of the information available in patent documents, aggregating the information, and evaluating statistical results - has two key advantages over many other sources.

First, although there is no such thing as an ‘international patent,’ the good news is that patents from all over the world are structured in a generally uniform manner, which makes it easier to compare existing portfolios and access to technologies on a like-for-like basis.

Second, unlike web sources, media alerts or analyst reports, which are mostly reactionary and report on events that have already happened, patents are one of the only sources that can give us directional insight into future product roadmaps or potential future innovations.

It means that regular reports, based on a standardized and data-driven methodology, can be created on an ongoing basis. They can be used to alert about changes in the competitive environment or to lessen the chance of future surprises from new technologies.

What are some of the main data points?

When looking at the market from a competitive intelligence point of view, IP analysis can reveal answers to the following questions about a competitor:

1. Differentiation

1050_Differentiation_icon_v2-01.pngHow does their R&D focus compare to other competitors (and yourself) within your space? Are they all focused on similar spaces, or are there some that have more differentiation or expertise in wider technology areas? The number of technology areas that competitors are patenting in, versus the number of new patents they are filing, reveals whether they are deepening their expertise in an area, or gearing towards more diversification.

2. Collaboration

1050_Collaboration_icon_v2-01.pngAre they increasing the number of partners that they are working with, either from an in-licensing perspective, or from the named inventors on patents? Increasing levels of in-licensing shows that they are ramping up access to certain technologies. Meanwhile, a high number of joint patents with other technology experts, research institutions or universities reveals where they might be focusing collaborative efforts.

3. Internationalization

1050_Internationalization_v2-01.pngAre they filing in single jurisdictions, or are they increasing their global footprint? Competitors who are rapidly improving their global footprint are indicating that they are increasingly confident about a technology area, or that they are going to expand their R&D efforts in a more international direction.

4. Credibility

1050_Credibility_icon_v2-01.pngAre their patents receiving an increasing number of citations? The extent to which this is occurring compared to other competitors in the market indicates that they are likely to hold patents for some of the key, pillar technologies within a specific area.

5. Inventiveness

1050_Inventiveness_icon_v2-01.pngWhat is the ratio of citations, in terms of whether they are referring back to their own technologies versus those they are citing from others? If they are citing a high proportion of their own technologies, it means that they are focused on building out from the platform of their own technologies. A higher proportion of citations of others means that they are likely to be in a catch up mode.

A barometer of change

In this way, we can see how IP Analysis provides an empirical way to evaluate changes in the market, from detecting threats, right the way through to finding new opportunities based on collaborative activities being observed in various technology landscapes.

It can be used as a barometer of change that will enable you to keep a close eye on any movements within the overall competitive landscape and assess how important the impact will be to your business.