Mapping Patents to Products - Why Should You Care?

When I talk with customers, they frequently have questions about mapping patents to products. It turns out that creating a patent to product association is extremely valuable when you think about it.

The business world runs on products. Profits and losses, revenue forecasts, and product offerings are all the lifeblood of a company and they’re all driven by products. It should come as no surprise, then, that you would want to protect your products with patented technology – but it turns out there is more to it than just protection.

With a patent to product mapping, you could start assigning a true value to patents. With that improved capability you have a greater capacity to maximize the return on your intellectual property investment.

That’s because you would have a better understanding of which patents are your most valuable and which have very little value. If you could tie your patents to your products the actual assessment could be performed with greater accuracy and precision, which in turn could help you:

  • Understand whether or how much to prune your portfolio because you could tie it more directly to your balance sheet
  • Gain insight into new licensing opportunities
  • Determine how to direct future R&D investments
  • Enhance your existing capability to manage protect and exploit your patents

That said, mapping a given product to one or more patents can be a daunting task. In fact, the short answer is that there is no real way to demonstrate a true one-to-one mapping of patents to products. It is possible, however, to do the next best thing, which can provide a very close approximation: trademarks.

You might not have given it much thought, but before dismissing trademarks out of hand, consider how they are used. Trademarks are used to protect naming conventions as unique and proprietary to a company or individual. Trademarks are used for 1) company names, 2) services, 3) slogans, 4) designs and logos, and 5) products and brands.

Let's say, for example, you are releasing a new product or brand and will be spending significant capital promoting and marketing it. You want to trademark that product name to ensure brand value and differentiate yourself from the competition.

You believe that it is something you think is inherently valuable, which is why you are offering it to the market and why you want to protect it from being used by others without your permission.

In fact, just as patents are technology monopolies in the market, trademarks are product/branding monopolies. From this vantage point, trademarks are an interesting approximation for products and brand names.  With this understanding, the term product/brands can be thought of as a synonym for trademarks for this discussion.

By attempting to map patents to product/brands, you find a very targeted set of possibilities that enable an understanding of the relationships between intellectual property patents and the product/brands they protect.

The question is how would you go about mapping and correlating patents and products/brands? Innography has produced a solution to address that very issue. In our latest release, Innography Winter ’10, Innography has created a process to associate patents with products/brands–a process which is itself patent-pending.

Our process uses semantic mapping between trademark descriptions and the language used on patents. Narrowing it further, trademarks and patents owned by the same company and that share other attributes really refine the scope to produce a targeted list of patents to trademark associations.

Now that we have a patents-to-trademarks linkage there are a number of use cases that are ground breaking and innovative:

  • Looking for disconnections between brand protection and patent protection. That is, how well are your products/brands protected by patents?
  • How do I understand what patents I can leverage to protect my products?
  • If I have key patent technology, what outside products/brands might be infringing on my patents (e.g. not owned by the same company, branded after the date of the patent, same semantic space, etc)?
  • What patents might I be infringing on in different product arenas (Freedom to Operate)?
  • How do I compare two companies’ patent and product positions?
  • How do I know where a new patent might be applied to a product?

There are many more examples, but these associations provide a very unique insight into a process that hasn't been possible before. This capability is an industry first that has the potential to change the way people think about both their patents and their trademarks. It establishes an intrinsic link between the technologies they own and brands/products they have created and brought to market.

An understanding of how products are related to patented technologies can help you protect, defend and exploit a much greater segment of your intellectual property. We’re no longer talking about only patents, which is the current mindset in the industry. I personally believe this represents a change in how people view their IP – that it will foster a more integrated view of IP and its business value.

This sort of holistic approach has not only been lacking in the industry, it hasn't even been on the radar until now. It’s my hope that other industry leaders will embrace this enhanced perspective of how customers can and should be truly managing their IP.

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