Identifying Novel and Attractive Technologies: Freedom-to-Operate Study

The era of wearable technology has arrived. The recent CES event held this month in Las Vegas proved that this area of technology isn't going anywhere with a staggering number of wearable devices presented at the conference. Many of these devices focus around health or fitness related computing devices.

Companies such as: Basis, Jaybird, LG, Sony, and Wellograph all showcased wearable bands and watches. Coupling the world of IP with the latest technology trends may give way to identifying the next technology market your organization should focus on. 

A Freedom-to-Operate (FTO) analysis plays a valuable role in IP strategy. It allows a company to identify, minimize, and manage risk while identifying areas where patent coverage is absent. Also referred to as a clearance search or infringement search, FTO is defined as a method to identify existing IP that may subject your company to patent-infringement liability. 

FTO analysis reduces the risk of future litigation and unnecessary litigation costs. Furthermore, performing an FTO analysis at the onset of a product’s development lifecycle affords you the opportunity to avoid infringement before reaching a point of no return and reduces wasted costs on R&D efforts.  Due to the evolutionary nature of patent filings around the world, FTO studies are a crucial first step within your R&D process.

The following questions are used as a framework for a FTO study:

  • What is the value of the product and amount of investment?
  • Have similar products sparked litigation?
  • Who are considered to be competitors and emerging players?
  • What are your company’s business objectives?

It is important to understand that FTO analysis does not guarantee your safety from being sued. However, you can quickly and accurately identify the most relevant patents and applications filed worldwide with Innography’s tools to give you an upfront advantage. 

Consider these factors when conducting a search for prior art and open opportunities: 

  • Novelty of technology
  • Attractiveness - is this technology being heavily cited
  • Risk Analysis – identify litigious companies & technology land mines

Lets dive into the details:


As technology advances at a more rapid pace, the ability to spot trends and create technology forecasts is becoming more and more critical to gaining a competitive advantage. Using Innography's Patent Semantic search function, within a few clicks you are able to generate a publication trend for both US applications and grants within a specific technology arena. The graph below confirms the growing interest in wearable devices. 

Now that there is an identified growing market, the next step is to understand the details of the technology arena - what are these patents claiming? Innography's text cluster analysis allows you to quickly & easily digest large sets of patents by understanding the key semantic concepts. As you can see from the visual, Heart Rate monitoring is the most saturated area of technology. From a FTO perspective, you need to be cautious before entering into this arena now that there is evidence it is a “hot” market. 


Identifying who has recently cited your competitors is a key indicator of who the newest competitors may be in a specific technology arena. Innography's "Forward Citation" one-click analysis allows you to see who may be a potential competitor.  The chart below is a snapshot of the emerging players within the health monitoring device space. Notice FitBit in the bottom right hand corner. They are sitting in the 'visionary' quadrant letting me know they are emerging as a heavy hitter in the space. Fitbit has cornered the market in the area wearable device in the enterprise setting. The news is inundated with articles around the concerns of sitting at a desk and how it affects our physical and emotional states. The thin band can be easily hidden under a button down shirt and allows you to keep track of your energy expenditure, steps taken, and calorie intake. 

Risk Analysis 

The final step in the FTO analysis is to identify if the area of technology is considered litigious and the organizations that are asserting their IP. Patents that are asserted over and over again represent litigation land mines in the IP landscape.

Innography allows you to correlate patent data with litigation information to uncover those organizations that are considered aggressive in asserting their IP. It is strongly advised to steer clear of these organizations when considering new technologies. Using initial results from our 'novelty' search, the visual below is used to identify the organizations that are active in litigation around wearable health monitoring devices.

Although Aliph is identified to have the most number of documents mentioned in an infringement case, Apple and Microsoft are considerably more litigious across all areas of their patent portfolio.

Starting out with a FTO analysis gives you the ability to make smart decisions regarding your IP strategy. For additional details on FTO best practices contact us at: or leave us a comment below! 


Denise, 01.29.2014

Great post, really insightful.

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