Using patent landscapes to open up communications between Legal, R&D, and C-level executives

Open communications, transparency, and collaboration are key ingredients for establishing nimble, forward-looking and innovative organizations. Especially when it comes to innovation, it is vital that Internal Counsel, Research and Development teams, and other C-level executives are on the same page. This kind of alignment is rare, and part of the problem is that the ‘language’ of innovation is different in each of these different worlds.

Legal teams are considering the viability of projects, potential for litigation, and other elements of risk; R&D teams might be thinking in terms of product roadmaps; and C-level executives are interested in developing a vision of the future to drive strategy. All three groups need to know how the others view the world in order to understand the overall strategic vision. So, is there a way to reach a common view? Fortunately, there is. IP landscaping provides a highly visual method of interpreting the world, and has the potential to unite different perspectives.

Understanding your Strategic Position within Technology

Once under the remit of the attorneys, patents are now factoring more and more into the mapping of a company's present and future strategic positioning. This is important for executives and consultants across technology companies, tasked with understanding their company's ever-changing positioning in the market. They are also very relevant to R&D.

Patent portfolios are an effective proxy for a company’s past and present R&D focus. As well as a source of information on a company's most valuable technologies, patents enable the tracking of competitors who have, or may be working on, similar or related patents -  a vital and regular task for industry innovators.

The following analysis can be carried out on any company’s portfolio, but let us focus on the current market dominator in wearables: FitBit. By positioning the FitBit patent portfolio on a Patent Landscape which can be seen below, we can see how this portfolio can be broken down to reveal its positionng in differing technologies, both within the same FitBit products and across its product line.

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On the legal side of things, litigation is a topic that is becoming more and more pertinent in the general patent space, including the ‘wearables’ technology area. The wrist-watch wearable technology area alone has seen has seen 14 infringement cases over the past 5 years. FitBit is the most litigious company in this area, with 12 of their patents being the focus of cases brought against Jawbone (as Aliphcom,) and Fitbug Incorporated.

Fitbit’s recent emphasis on patent infringement litigation is evident from the number of litigation flags spread across its portfolio. They know their IP positioning, and they use this information to their advantage. An example of one such patent is US8868377, highlighted in the landscape above. This patent protects the concept of using a portable monitoring device to calculate activity points corresponding to the physical activities of a user – the primary premise to the FitBit wearable product. It is no surprise that this patent has been predicted to be the most valuable patent within its portfolio.

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Strategic Positioning and Tracking movements within your territory

Tracking movements near to FitBit’s patent grants, and by proxy its current and future product roadmap, is a primary concern to many stakeholders within the company across different levels of management.

This merges the workflows of R&D executives, IP counsels, and the C-suite alike. By simply adding newly published patent applications and grants over the past month in these technology areas, we can observe any territorial movements by existing or new competitors. This is achieved by isolating newly published patents categorised into FitBit’s main technology classification codes areas. These classification codes can form a digital fingerprint for any company’s past, current and potentially future R&D focus. This is not only helpful to R&D departments but also to C-level executives.

Below you can see the FitBit Portfolio Landscape and how a multitude of new patents, from various competitors, surround existing granted patents owned by FitBit – like an opponent’s chess pieces around your prized Rook, Queen and King. Let us focus on the area of the landscape that is symbolised by the keywords: Portable, Systems, Monitoring, Operating, Activities and Combined. We can see that recently published patent applications from two competitors fall near to the aforementioned US Patent 8868377, which has already been involved in two infringement lawsuits. These two patents in question are represented by the yellow and blue dots in the landscapes below.

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The yellow dot is the multinational giant Seiko Epson, who have recently applied for a patent on “Biological Information Measurement Apparatus”, with a focus on assembling electrodes to detect biological information of a user.

The blue dot is Hello Inc., the San Francisco based Consumer Electronic Company, who have also had their patent titled “Wearable Device Made With Silicone Rubber And Electronic Components” granted.

These patents, with evident relation to FitBit’s product focus, are key targets for stringent claim analysis by in-house patent attorneys. They can provide important technical data for their R&D scientists, and provide key strategic information for their executives in regards to competitive positioning.

If you're interested in how patent landscapes can be used to give legal, R&D and C-level teams a shared, and strategic view of evolving technology areas, click the link below to read our new eBook.

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