Collaborative Patenting – Future of IP & Innovation

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too), those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”  – Charles Darwin

Collaboration has always helped mankind maneuver the biggest challenges and hurdles. Like all other human accomplishments, technology players have collaborated and enforced methodologies to avert any obstacles faced while creating innovation-driven sustainable businesses, in order to enable technology-driven societies. While innovation can be both an individual and/or collective endeavor, shaping the final consumer attraction, however, demands collective innovation and coordinated policies and frameworks.

Evolution of Patents & Patenting

What we call patents, were known as ‘royal grants of industrial monopolies’ in the fifteenth century. This entity first represented “a legal right to property in a novel mechanical or scientific invention” only in the late eighteenth century. Since then, patenting and patent enforcement processes have witnessed tremendous alterations at multiple intervals and levels.

In this evolution process, multiple strategies and frameworks have been consistently formed to smoothen the development of modern-day technologies, and resultant end products. Such frameworks generally include Standards Development Organizations (SSO or SDO), patent pools, among many other consortiums and forums. These frameworks were established to nurture the integration of extremely distributed IP assets for the final adoption and harvesting of end technology.

SSOs focused on developing, publishing, or disseminating technical standards using a consensus-based standards development process. These include bodies like ETSI, ITU, 3GPP, etc. Similarly, a patent pool refers to a consortium of two or more patent owners to license one or more of their patents to one another or to third parties. The patent pools include entities like Avanci, MPEGLA, Marconi, etc., and in essence, have been created to avoid crushing patent lawsuits. For example, the ‘Sewing Machine Combination” of 1856 is believed to be the first modern patent pool in the United States and was created for the same unfamous reasons.

To cater to the challenges from Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs or Patent trolls), even defensive patent aggregators were formed, with the likes of RPX and AST which have helped member organizations to avert frivolous assertions from such entities.

The discussion in the two preceding paras emphasizes on the need for collaborations to introduce technological marvels. It’s evident that the collaboration has consistently paved the way forward towards continued innovation. However, many opponents may argue about some of the prevalent negatives of these collaborations and their underlying frameworks.

Need For Deeper Collaboration

All the listed consortiums and forums have end-stage utility to make smoother technology adoption. However, with the proliferation of technologies across industry sectors, there’s a need for deeper collaborations, which come into action at the R&D level and prevent lawsuits and technology stagnation.

To understand the need for deeper collaboration, let’s understand this from the perspective of ICT proliferation which exists in almost every industry sector, as well as study the apparent disruptive characteristic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML).

In the case, as illustrated in the figure below, there are a couple of probable collaboration schemes possible. Instead of working in silos, any possible collaboration from the set of probabilities would have its set of pros and cons.

Figure: Possible industry collaboration

Let us assume the incorporated ICT technologies in the end automotive product don’t fall under the competitive area for either of the automotive players. Amongst one of those possibilities, imagine a scenario wherein the two automotive players initiate coordinated research into enabling ICT technologies to alleviate their absolute reliance on any ICT players, while continuing independent research in their mainstream industry segments. This strategy would help them to merge their talent pool towards collaboratively building ICT technologies and leverage their core expertise towards building breakthrough innovations in their competitive area. This is an example of a case scenario and the scope for such a possibility exists in almost all industry sectors, given the current cross-domain applicability of technologies.

So how does it benefit?

To answer this question, one may need to answer yet another counter-question – what is the degree of difference in the inclusion of such enabling technologies in such cross-industry products?

The answer is next to zero because such enabling tech is mostly similar across the market players.

This in essence means that the inclusion of such technologies isn’t any objective marketing parameter, then why wouldn’t companies take initiatives to execute coordinated research in such areas and subsequently develop collaborative patent portfolios to secure their market dominance?

With such strategic collaborations, industry players need to establish collaborative R&D frameworks and lay the foundation for the next generation patenting, with the hope of building a better future together for all.

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