‘The patent landscape’ is a term we use freely, but it can mean different things to different people. At its heart, though, the landscape is a process - a tool - that is used by innovating companies to holistically understand the technical, competitive and IP trends within a market or specific technical space.

It’s used to support decision making. both at a high level (who should we acquire) and at a tactical level (should we be filing this technology in emerging markets?).

Patent landscape best practice is that the output should be easy to use in decision support. Perhaps the most common refrain from those that have received a less than useful, but copious and comprehensive, patent analysis is: “How do I use this?”. It’s a fair point.

Companies know that turning to patent data can provide critical insight when the big decisions arrive, but the volume of information and the myriad possibilities of charting present challenges. Take CRISP, for example.

CRISPR is a rapidly developing synthetic biology technique that already has over 18,000 individual patent applications and granted patents worldwide.

The current financial market for CRISPR is quite small, but expectations for growth are substantial. Given the small economic impact of CRISPR, we need to look to patents to get a sense of where the market is heading. But how to make sense of over 18,000 patent records?

The goal of landscaping is to identify patterns and insights that support direct decision making. Those decisions are not just in the world of patent strategy, patent prosecution and drafting. Instead, they extend long into technical project selection, innovation positioning, ideation, partnership evaluation - essentially into functions of the business less familiar with the terms ‘priority’, ‘PCT’ and ‘patent family’.

The key insight into best practice in landscape is, as with any analytical output, knowing your audience and communicating effectively. Put another way, it can’t just be a tome of complex charts.

Each landscape report is likely to be different depending on the decisions it will support, but in general good ones begin by providing you with some background about the level of activity.

As shown in Figure 1, the number of unique CRISPR inventions is rapidly accelerating. Note that the measure is based on the number of inventions, not the number of patent filings. This measure of patent families gives you a more realistic understanding of the global growth level of ideas without the noise created by the same idea being filed in multiple authorities.

Figure 1: CRISPR landscape timeline

Other baseline measures can include data on location of inventors, identifying the organisations with large portfolios, the new entrants, the trending technologies and so on.

Baseline data principally covers the who, what, when, and where questions. There are potentially a lot of these types of questions, so being selective is key.

Within the CRISPR field, a principal element is understanding what type of organisation is filing for patents. As shown in Figure 2, academic and government entities are far more involved in CRISPR than the normal global pattern for all technologies.

Figure 2: CRISPR entity dynamics

This skew toward academic and government is also reflected in the filing strategies shown in Figure 3. Since many of the new ideas in CRISPR are only protected in the authority of invention, it appears that many of the organisations driving the state of the art in CRISPR have little intent to produce and protect globally. This pattern could suggest that there will be ample licensing opportunities for CRISPR technologies in the future.

Figure 3: CRISPR filing strategies

A full landscape will then continue to assess not just volumetric trend for companies, but also their patent strength position – leaning on various models and factors such as citation levels, prosecution investment and age – to identify those innovators in the sector that are small, new and potentially disruptive.

Similar modelling can be performed on the technical approaches within the patent landscape – providing immediate action items.

Figure 4: CRISPR technical approaches

Citation data, particularly involuntary examiner citation data, provides a method of extending and crowdsourcing your analysis to show where you are within the landscape – and help to identify firms and research organisations that have solved very similar technical problems to you: this is a list of potential partners, whose technical know-how could get your research into product months or even years earlier than otherwise.

The outputs of a truly world-class landscape should therefore be game changing for innovators. It should provide specific targeted decision support and intelligence for multiple audiences – across the innovation collaboration cycle: IP departments and how they should file and maintain, of course; but also R&D teams that need insight into areas ripe for ideation and whether their current assumptions are being challenged; and corporate strategy departments that can quickly see the tell-tale signs of potential technical or market disruption.

Done right, the patent landscape is a process tool of incredible power to understand the direction of innovation, the risks, the opportunities and the context of where you are. The implications in response time, strategy steer, assumption checking and, indeed, IP strategy are measured in the millions of dollars.