Patent portfolios have been instrumental to large corporations for some time. Patents can be leveraged for revenue growth, defending market position, putting competitors on the defensive, and other tasks essential to implementing a corporate vision. Recent data may give insight into corporate filing strategies.
As technology and industry have advanced, so too have patent volumes. For the past 30 years, the number of United States patent applications have increased substantially. In June of this year, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued its ten millionth patent, an automotive patent to Raytheon. That’s impressive work for a department that’s operated for more than two hundred years. Patents are a foundation of the global corporate landscape and serve as a bellwether for innovation and trajectory. As countless in-house counsels will attest, patent strategy closely mirrors corporate priorities across many industries.
Patent filings have continued robustly, though the rate of growth has fluctuated a bit in the last several years. This isn’t unprecedented, and recent decades have seen a few similar blips amid an overall trend of increasing patent volumes.
One possible explanation involves more targeted filing strategies on the part of corporations. As businesses manage increasingly large patent portfolios, they may be choosing to focus on their core innovations and be shifting their resources accordingly. Strong patent defense remains as important as ever, but management may be acknowledging the reality that defending an infinite number of patents isn’t tenable, or even desirable. You want to focus on your strongest inventions and intellectual property, and defend them even more fiercely.
Of course, it may be something else entirely. It’s too soon to say with certainty what the data on patent volume suggests. Perhaps it’s just noise in the ongoing trend of patent volume increase, or perhaps something is truly changing. Whatever the case, corporations are still contending with larger patent portfolios than ever before and must choose their battles. Management must carefully allocate resources to ensure that core competencies have adequate defense, while still protecting the larger array of secondary patents. This requires deep product knowledge and keen legal insight. That, as always, is in short supply. Seeking experienced legal counsel may be the best strategy.