If You’re Not Watching Competitors’ Patents, You’re Not Doing Innovation Right

When I saw the latest article from the Wall Street Journal with the title “New Way to Track Auto Innovation: Patent Filings,” I could only shake my head. While we’re thrilled to see the world getting on board with patent analysis as a way to track competitor movements, we take exception to the idea that this tactic is somehow “new” or “innovative.”

How else are you supposed to understand what’s going on in your industry if you’re not keeping an eye on the intellectual property your competitors hold? That’s why we provide some of the hottest patent news each week, and often with information about what the auto manufacturers and brands are up to.

A couple of months ago, we covered the shape-shifting car that the Wall Street Journal is so in awe of. In that same article, we talked about Ford’s patent for a removable steering wheel. Not too long ago, we did a rundown of several recent Ford patents, in fact. We talked about Tesla just last week, and then again a few weeks ago. In fact, rarely a week goes by that we don’t delve deeply into the patents and intellectual property of the latest automobile innovations, especially as they apply to autonomous vehicles. It’s what we do.

So, what I’d like to know is, why are people just now discovering that patents make a pretty accurate crystal ball when it comes to predicting the future innovation of your competitors?

Avoid Getting Ubered

We have a tendency to believe that the giants of today are too large to be “ubered.” Who could possibly take on Amazon, Google, or Facebook? If you believe that’s true, then you should investigate the impact Compaq had on IBM, a company that was considered too big to fail, until it just about did.

The world was rocked when Netflix ousted Blockbuster and Uber upended the taxi industry. At IPVision, we believe neither of these—nor countless others that have watched their market share fizzle away to zero—would have been blindsided if they’d been paying attention to the technology landscape.

We do it absolutely every day, as a vital step in our innovation consulting service. The intellectual property belonging to your competitors, and perhaps even companies or entities you haven’t yet identified as competitors, can open up new avenues or shut down current production. The difference between the two possibilities lies in when you choose to investigate that IP—before you begin the innovation process or after you’re too far along to change direction. Of course, we recommend investigating the patents that have been filed within your industry early and often.

How Does It Work?

Let’s say for the sake the current subject matter that you’re a car manufacturer hoping to hop on board the autonomous vehicle bandwagon. With zero passenger cars on the road, there’s obviously still some room for innovation and development here. However, you’ve heard some rumblings about the innovations other manufacturers have developed, and you want to avoid what they’re doing, at least for the time being.

How could you possibly get a full view of what’s happening in the autonomous vehicle field? You could read publications, maybe set a Google alert for patent news. That’s not a bad way to start, since you’ll hear about the most sensational things first. We love the stories coming out about BMW’s pedestrian communication system and Ford’s in-car movie theater. Of course, those will be reported first.

But if Blockbuster had been paying attention and got news this big from scouring patents, they might have had an idea that Netflix was coming for them. Instead, the first clue of what Netflix was planning was a tiny little patent that covered packaging for mailed media. How would Blockbuster have known what was coming from that?

With a technology landscape, you can see the big and the small. Every patent filed within a particular industry, surrounding a particular technology, or born from a single patent. When we know what to look for, we find it. That one outlier that may seem like nothing at all to you right now could be the exact piece of information you need to avoid losing your spot at the top of the mountain. It could be the piece of the puzzle you’ve been looking for to complete your next incredible product.

Using Patents as Your Crystal Ball

The wrong time to start watching your competitors’ innovations is when the disruption has already begun. If you wait until you’re already losing market share, you’ll remain behind the ball. Instead, be the disruptor. With the ability to see what your competitors are doing at all times, you can avoid infringement, discover new avenues for innovation, and stay at least one step ahead of the pack at all times.

It’s an unfair competitive advantage that’s available to everyone, but so few actually use it. And, believe it or not, it’s been around for years. It’s the US patent system, and the information within is available to the general public any time someone wants to access it. There’s nothing innovative about that. We have, however, created innovative ways to combine patent analytics with strategic thinking. Let IPVision’s strategic innovation consulting predict your future.

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