Rembrandts or Rubbish in the Attic?
Intellectual Asset Management
October 16, 2009
A good deal of business advice over the last decade has centred on getting value out of research and development through aggressive patenting strategies. And clearly patenting rates have increased significantly, in all manner of fields. But does a “patent everything” strategy really pay off?
Over the last few decades patenting rates have increased substantially at government patent offices throughout developed economies. In Europe, the number of annual patent filings grew from 60,754 in 1990 to 140,725 in 2007, more than a two-fold increase. In the US, comparable increase can be seen, from 171,163 patents filed in 1990 to 456,154 in 2007.
Despite what much of the hype may suggest, patents do not always represent untapped gold mines.
The blossoming of patent application filings has been driven by a host a factors, one of which appears to be many companies’ quest for the next “Rembrandt in the attic”. In other words, the perception that a patent, any patent, creates commercial value for its holder that can be exploited in the marketplace has led many firms to establish internal patent departments tasked with culling through all of the results emerging from the R&D department to identify what can be patented, which firms might be approached for licenses, and generally how to generate revenues from any intellectual property right (IPR) that is obtained.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who are worried about the harm such patent mining can generate. In particular, the popular view that firms are patenting every little invention they can has spurred considerable debate regarding the proliferation of “weak” or low quality patents – patents that should not or would not be granted if the patent office in charge had adequate resources to devote to application review and had personnel with the appropriate training to review the many highly technical applications now made. A host of theories based on this sense of “over” patenting has emerged.