There are 6,000 patent documents in the United States regarding additive fabrication. This means the straightforward approach is over and it is almost impossible to prevent one worker from interfering with another. Cross licensing and licensing have become common and now requires a strategy for intellectual property regarding technology and business plans. Most of these patents are to gather competitive intelligence for a defensive and offensive strategy. When benefits are ignored they go to the competitors. Competitors can shut each other down and restrict freedom. The use of intellectual property must be understood to avoid trouble and compete effectively. Most companies do not pay attention to competitors. This can result in an erosion of the company’s place in the technological market. Competitive intelligence is gathering and analyzing information gained from public sources. It is easy to find a competitors brochures, new releases, trade press articles, white papers and SEC filings. The top of the list should be patents.
The Importance of the Patent
Patents provide information not found anywhere else and the material they contain is daunting. Patents are critical because they uncover competitive infringements, threats and opportunities, guide the technical process and provide insight into the future plans of the competitors. Patents are the foundation to evaluate opportunities and candidates for acquisitions and mergers. Correspondence can be monitored and insight into the business strategies of the competitors gained. Competitive intelligence is the beginning of a plan of action. It is critical for a company to understand the direction taken by their competitors. This will enable strategies to protect and improve the businesses financial and market positions by blocking the competitors. The uniqueness of the service and products are maintained while providing differentiation for the brand. Patents can block the patents of the competitors, obtain delays and initiate litigation. The interactions do not need to be hostile. Discussions between the competitors are often effective.
A patent council can keep companies aware of new developments and most services are web based. It is difficult to track additive fabrication because of the new terminology. These new terms are used to hide information. Another issue is patents encompass a lot of territory so technologies can overlap. The different technologies also make it hard to ensure discrete categories. The overlapping of the technologies mean all markets of interest must be tracked. Fused deposition modeling is different than 3D printing but many applications use both. This makes it necessary to track additional developments. Patent attorneys are now familiar with additive fabrication capabilities. Terms are being used to include other fields without any impact on the market or technological development. Patent tracking requires a wide range of technical knowledge and diligence regarding search terms. This means a greater effort is required for additive fabrication patent tracking than most other fields.
The Alert System
Organization is the first step in building an intellectual property strategy and an integrated business. Invention assignment and confidentiality agreements should be signed by the consultants and employees. The education of the workforce should be continual. A solid understanding of the importance of IP for the company must be a priority for the sales, marketing and engineering personnel. They must be able to look outward and inward to scan for threats from the competition, strategic opportunities and infringements. This includes the R&D efforts and patent portfolio of the company. This process may involve audits for intellectual property agreed upon by the outside patent control. These audits can effectively reveal the industry’s emerging technologies and the company’s patentable technology. The audit typically includes extensive interviews with the employees and systematically analyzing the technology of the competitor. This type of audit is annually conducted by Hewlett Packard.