Watching your competitors - or getting your head out of the sand

I am constantly amazed that more clients don't do (and have never considered) competitor watching. Patents offer a well codified, fully searchable insight into your competitors' R&D efforts, and a simple monthly alert can give you a heads-up on what they are working on.


These are the three most useful types of searches:

The named competitor watch

For obvious reasons, companies tend to keep their R&D activities closely guarded secrets. This is where patents come into their own. Patent applications (unless withdrawn) are always published- usually about 18 months after they are filed. They also need to contain a full disclosure of the invention. Therefore they are can be a very useful window in the wall of secrecy surrounding R&D.

Setting up a regular alert for all new applications filed and published by a competitor, customer or supplier can give a very useful insight into their R&D efforts.

Further, patents are usually only filed to the inventions companies regard as a top priority. Therefore analysis can give an idea of what your competitor's priorities are, and perhaps how they shift over time.

The subject-matter watch

Sometimes, you simply don't know who's operating in your space. Competitors may be too numerous to name, or you may be a new entrant with limited market knowledge. That's when subject-matter searching comes into it's own.

Using a combination of keywords and patent classifications, a regular alert containing new patent applications published in a given technical area can be created. This can alert you to both known competitor activity, as well as new market entrants.

The inventor search

You can also search by inventor. Patents can be passed around like any other piece of property, but the inventor will always remain the same.

If you are aware of the leaders in the field, but are not sure who they work for, then keeping an eye on their patent activity can be a useful tool.

It can also be used for recruitment- if a particular inventor is very active in a certain area of interest, he or she may make a suitable recruitment target.

How does it work?

  1. We firstly define the criteria- for example a list of competitor names, or keywords in the text of the patent documents. Your input is essential to make sure we know what you are looking for, and why.

  2. Secondly, we plug those search criteria into our software and generate a sample search. This will typically span a finite period, and will give us an idea of what volume of results were are likely to get.

  3. Thirdly, we hone the criteria. Too many results and you simply won't read the report- too few and we may miss something important.

  4. Once the criteria are set, we provide an alert on a regular (e,g, monthly) basis by email. If you want to review any of the hits in more detail, it is easy to do so.

How much does it cost?

It really depends on the complexity of the alert, but typically these cost in the region of £300 to set up, and about £200/quarter to administer (ex VAT).

For more details, get in touch.

patents, searchingPhil Sanger