“Among the world’s most innovative companies, patent selectivity, not volume, is what truly matters.”
A decade of consecutive, annual growth in patent application activity worldwide came to a sudden halt in 2020. The pandemic has upended many aspects of business, including patent activity. Filings at the European Patent Office (EPO) may have dipped just 0.7% last year but findings from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) revealed a 3% drop in filings globally.
While broad insights can be extracted from analyzing patent filing activity, as revealed by the EPO’s latest Patent Index, increasingly, organizations are looking for more. With the complexities of today’s business environment exacerbated by the pandemic, businesses seek deeper intelligence and the ability to connect different data points that can translate into actionable insights that support faster, better decisions.
Patent Selectivity, Not Volume, Matters
Patent volume is a simple quantitative measure. What it tells us is that companies are filing for patent protection, the representation in various sectors, and how filing activity across sectors compare. As a measure on its own, patent volume offers no richer insight. It does not shed any light on companies’ innovation culture or inventiveness, nor their positions within the wider market.
The latest Top 100 Global InnovatorsTM report, for instance, revealed a steady decline in overall patent volumes among the Top 100 recipients since 2014. This might appear to be a dichotomy and is at odds to the surge in patent activity until 2020. However, by applying a sophisticated view of patent information, and considering the influence, novelty and commercialization potential of companies’ patented research, the report provided a measure of the ideation culture that produced those patents. Among the world’s most innovative companies, patent selectivity, not volume, is what truly matters.
The crises of the past decades show that adversity often spurs innovation. It is hardly surprising that the pandemic has unleashed a wave of transformational innovation, particularly in medical and biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. 3D printed handsfree door openers and basic ventilators were produced early in the pandemic and COVID vaccines have been developed at impressive speed. More recently, Japanese scientists developed a special syringe that can draw seven doses from Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine vials.
According to a survey Clarivate conducted last May, innovation is crossing boundaries, with 23% of respondents indicating their innovations were being re-purposed beyond their primary industry. The top new markets for these re-purposed innovations mirror the fields experiencing the highest levels of inventions according to the EPO Patent Index – medical and biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals.
For example, researchers at the University of South Australia are developing a drone that can remotely detect temperature, heart and respiratory rates, as well as coughing and sneezing of people in crowds. This “pandemic drone” could become a useful pandemic screening tool. The United States Food and Drug Administration and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences created CUREID, a platform that allows clinicians to share medical information and identify new treatments for repurposed medicines. Adversity has, and continues to, spark ingenuity.
Digitization and Workplace Transformation Accelerate
The acceleration of digitization is another tangible impact of the pandemic. Spurred by lockdowns and restricted travel measures that continue to persist, digital transformation is happening not just at the workplace but is far-reaching, impacting how we learn, interact with others and shop.
Contrary to concerns at the outset of pandemic that remote working could lead to a decline in productivity, a Mercer survey revealed that remote workers were as productive or able to increase productivity. Much has being written about tech giants such as Twitter and Google offering their employees the option to work from home forever.
However, obstacles remain. The potential of remote working tends to be higher in advanced economies and for specific occupations, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Even among advanced economies such as the United States, connectivity remains an issue, as new Stanford research showed that 35% of Americans have poor Internet access at home that would prevent effective remote working. In order for digital transformation to gather pace, innovations in connectivity – from cloud and collaboration technologies to 5G – are key.
Fragmentation and the Need for Collaboration
The EPO’s Patent Index for 2020 has spotlighted innovation growth areas based on patent activity, but the broader context is missing. A deeper and considered approach by leaning on advanced IP data provides that, transforming information to powerful insights.
Through such an approach, the Top 100 Global Innovators report last year revealed a picture of a fast-moving global and interconnected innovation ecosystem marked by fragmentation and need for collaboration. Innovation is being incubated in smaller companies, with the Top 1,000 entities’ share of inventions in Derwent World Patents IndexTM (DWPI) having decreased from 27% to 18% over a six-year period. At the same time, the average number of listed inventors per DWPI patent record rose from 2.84 (in 2014) to 2.99 (in 2019).
Despite being physically more distant, innovators have demonstrated remarkable resilience and ingenuity, working and collaborating more seamlessly than ever before, and COVID-related research is a prime example.
Real-world Pressures and Faster Innovation Cycles
In a market that is more fluid than ever before, businesses face growing real-world pressures, from faster innovation cycles, greater competition and the need to uncover new markets. The challenge to many is to not just survive, but thrive, in the most turbulent of times. By unlocking the full value of innovation data, organizations are armed with actionable insights that can help them quickly discover new opportunities, bring products to market faster or take the right risks.
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