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Patent landscaping – A full picture of patents 


This year, we celebrate the 150th birthday of Impressionism Art. Everyone is familiar with the landscapes painted by Monet, Pissarro or Renoir that include sunrises, nature, or flowers. These paintings are incredibly famous and do not need to be presented.  

But what about patent landscaping?  

Just like paintings, patents are expressive and provide a wealth of information when you look at them attentively. A patent contains not only bibliographic data (assignee names, inventor names, dates, patent office etc), but also, technical information (keywords, detailed embodiments, experimental results etc). Therefore, the analysis of patents can provide unique insight into a technology field by offering valuable information about key players/competitors, current state of the art/emerging trends, and areas protected by patents/innovation gaps. Interestingly, it is also important to keep in mind that most often this information is not disclosed anywhere else. 

However, it is not easy to get the full picture of a patent environment. Why? Simply because more patent applications are filed each year, the patent system is complex, and the terminology can be vast and inconsistent. Further challenging for industrial actors, it is often difficult to find and sort the relevant patent information for analysis in a way that allows for efficient decision-making process.  

By performing in-depth patent searches, using advanced search tools and databases, patent analysts can design patent landscapes. Patent landscape analysis goes beyond mere data collection. Data is turned into information and information into valuable insights. Like impressionist painters, experienced patent analysts can create colored charts and visualizations assembling the information to provide a powerful tool for strategic analysis.  

A patent landscape is usually a comprehensive analysis of competitors patent portfolios, specific technologies and/or a mix of competitors portfolios and technologies. The number of patents analyzed can range from tens to thousands depending on the scope of the landscape. There is no limit as a patent landscape is a tailor-made tool.  

Depending on the final purposes, patent landscapes can be helpful to deal with strategic questions: 

1. Strategic Decision Making: 

• R&D Planning: Helps in identifying technology gaps and emerging trends, guiding research and development efforts towards high-potential areas. 

• Investment Decisions: Assists investors in evaluating the potential and risks associated with investing in a particular technology or company. 

2. Competitive Analysis: 

• Competitor Insights: Offers a clear view of competitors’ patent portfolios, strategies, and innovation activities. 

• Market Positioning: Helps in understanding the competitive landscape, enabling better positioning and differentiation of products and services. 

3. Risk Management: 

• Avoiding Infringement: Identifies existing patents that could pose infringement risks, helping in designing around existing IP and avoiding costly litigation. 

• Freedom to Operate (FTO): Assesses the freedom to operate in a specific technology area, ensuring that new products or processes do not infringe on existing patents. 

4. IP Strategy Development: 

•Portfolio Management: Helps in building and managing a robust patent portfolio by identifying valuable patents to acquire, license, or develop. 

• Licensing Opportunities: Identifies potential licensing opportunities, both inbound and outbound, to generate revenue or access needed technologies. 

5. Innovation and Collaboration: 

• Technology Trends: Reveals technology trends and innovation hotspots, fostering collaboration and partnerships with leading organizations or researchers in the field. 

• Benchmarking: Enables benchmarking of innovation performance against industry standards and best practices. 

6. Market and Technology Insights: 

• Emerging Technologies: Highlights emerging technologies and disruptive innovations, providing early warning signals for market shifts. 

• Geographic Trends: Offers insights into geographic trends in patent filings, helping in understanding regional innovation hubs and potential markets. 

7. Regulatory and Policy Insights: 

• Policy Making: Informs policy makers about the state of innovation in specific fields, aiding in the development of policies that promote innovation and economic growth. 

• Standards Development: Supports standards development organizations in understanding the patent landscape related to new standards. 

As a brief introduction to patent landscape analysis, and to illustrate what kind of insights can be reached by this tool, we created and selected three charts focused on a hot topic; mRNA vaccines technology.  

Figure 1. The patent families for each of TOP 20 assignees are distributed within their legal status. Dead means that members in the patent family are into the domain public. Alive means that at least one member in the patent family is still alive. For example, Curevac has a a patent portfolio of 22 patent families, including 19 alive patent families.   

The chart of top current assignees is a must-have in a patent landscape.  

Indeed, knowing who the most active actor(s) are in a specific field is the first step to understanding the patent environment. At this stage, special attention must be paid to the names of assignees since they can be modified during the lifetime of a patent. The names of multiple assignees can also change, and this is critical information to consider.   

At a glance, it is possible to identify the key players, e.g., private companies vs. universities/public institutes. Additionally, assignees nationality can be detected, and it is also possible to create groups based on the number of patent families per assignees.  

Here, we added a new piece of information: legal status.  

Indeed, it is interesting to identify a key player but if we are aware that the main part of its portfolio is dead, conclusions are different.  

In Figure 1, we can observe that the most innovating players in the field of mRNA-based vaccines are companies and universities.  

The list of active assignees is headed by Moderna, which is the undisputed leader as regards with the number of patent applications in the field of mRNA vaccines.  

We can also observe that most of the patent families in this field are still alive. 

2d chart: Top 20 assignees vs timeline 

Figure 2. The patent families for each of TOP 20 assignees are distributed within their first filing year, then the patent families appear only once on this chart. The years 2023 and 2024 are not complete cause the patent application is usually published 18 months after its filing.  

From the previous chart, the main assignees have been identified. What about the distribution of filing over the last 20 years?  

With a bubble chart, top assignees are combined to the timeline of filing.  

Then, it becomes quite easy to follow the filing strategy of the main players and to detect the entry of new competitors.  

A period of 20 years is chosen on purpose since it corresponds to the classic lifetime of a patent. 

With this chart, it is possible to determine if a technology is emerging or declining. From a distinct perspective: is access to that technology increasingly closed? Or, is this technology falling into the public domain? 

As shown in Figure 2, mRNA vaccines are a very recent technology since most of the patents have been filed after 2015. CureVac and BioNTech were pioneers in protecting innovations in relation to mRNA vaccines, with first patent applications filed in 2004 and 2011, respectively. Then, Moderna entered the game and quickly became the most active player. 

Many new players have appeared following the COVID crisis and the number of submitted patent applications has drastically increased since 2022.  

It also becomes clear that all active players are now filing patent applications on mRNA vaccines on a regular basis. 

3rd chart: Geographical coverage 

Figure 3. The patent families are distributed within their protected country. The protected country is equivalent to the publication country of alive patent families. Here, an alive patent family can appear several times on the chart within its publication countries. For example, a patent family published in EP and US is represented in the EP and in the US bars.  

Geographical distribution is often a valuable feature of patent landscaping.  

This data can provide a variety of information, but it is important to know what the intended purpose is before deciding what to look at.  

For example: 

Analyzing the distribution of priority patent applications will inform about the origin of innovation for a given technology, i.e., which countries are most active in research and development in that area.  

Analyzing which countries are the most designated in patent portfolios will provide information on the main markets for a given technology. This information may be particularly strategical to adopt the same geographical distribution than close competitors.  Special attention must be paid to the fact that many countries can be designated not only directly but also via regional or international systems (e.g. European patent application or PCT application). 

Analyzing the distribution of granted patents will be particularly relevant when assessing potential freedom-to-operate risks. 

In Figure 3, the TOP 3 of protected countries are China, Europe, and World. It is not surprising for China, as previously shown with Figures 1 and 2 Chinese players are active in this technology. But it will be interesting to analyze further if non-Chinese players protected their invention in China. Same as China, it could be interested to identify the players protecting their invention in Europe. CureVac (DE) and BioNTech (DE) will be found, what about Moderna (US) or the Chinese institutes?   

World (WO) is not a protected country like others. WO represents PCT application. The 3rd place of PCT applications confirms the technology is recent and that players use the PCT system to protect their invention. The position of India and Israel shows that the technology of mRNA vaccines is developed all over the world.  

In conclusion, the comprehensive analysis provided by patent landscapes is undoubtfully an invaluable asset for navigating the complex environment of patents and driving a sustained innovation. By providing a detailed view of the innovation activity and trends, it helps private companies and public organizations to address the concerns associated with making high stakes decisions in various areas of technology. While in the past, decision-makers had to operate based on isolated information or intuition, they are now supported by a data-driven approach mitigating the risks.  

However, to ensure the accuracy and relevance of the information provided by a patent landscape, it is necessary to rely on a fruitful dialogue with intellectual property specialists. GEVERS team includes experienced patent analysts and patent engineers that will be happy to assist you with any questions you may have. 

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