The convergence of technologies has made landscape analysis more
onerous and complicated, according to in-house counsel.
Sources explain that businesses in most sectors are increasingly
looking to create tech-enabled devices by partnering with non-traditional
developers, or investing in technologies such as artificial intelligence or telecommunications
These partnerships and projects have introduced more
competitors and technology areas into numerous industries, and businesses now
need to keep tabs on these as part of their landscape analysis to mitigate risk,
benchmark the business, identify opportunities and gain insight into competitor
In-house sources say that the complexities introduced by the
entrance of new competitors and technologies call for more in-depth and proactive
“When you combine two industries, searching for competitive
intelligence becomes more complicated because not only are you searching for
your business domain expertise but also [for that in] your tech areas,”
explains the vice-president of IP at a technology firm.
He points out that as businesses grow and mash together
domains more aggressively, and in larger quantities, the issue will likely grow
The chief counsel at a global medical device company adds
that the growing number of tech partnerships and projects has pushed his
business outside more familiar analysis areas.
“We have a good feel for what our traditional landscape
looks like and pushing outside of that requires more resources and that is when
you rely on external firms and the expertise they hold,” he says.
The IP manager at an automotive start-up adds that his firm
must also monitor companies that are not its direct competitors because of the
convergence of technologies.
“You cannot just look at aeroplane or helicopter seats being
put together with 3D printing, and that makes it difficult to identify the
relevant patents,” he says.
“We do not just look at competitors, but companies
developing technologies that we have to incorporate as well,” he says, adding
that almost every company seems to be developing certain technologies that his
firm is interested in.
The IP manager at an aerospace company points out that his
company’s new focus on 3D printing has also introduced complications into its
competitor analysis because of how widely the technology is being developed.
Companies may need to implement more in-depth and proactive
analysis strategies and invest in automation technologies if they want to navigate
their progressively rocky landscapes better.
Proactive analysis tips
Sources point out that competitive analysis requirements
will vary enormously between businesses, but have identified certain universal
Jarred Twigg, IP manager at Breville, says that the market
landscape has broadened because of the development of the internet of things
and connected kitchen appliances, but points out that it may be a mistake to
regard all new entrants as a competitor.
“In a number of those converging tech areas, you may find
that certain new players with access to large revenue streams are better served
by collaboration than by isolation to extend the reach of their own tech,” said
Twigg. He adds that a company in the digital space of back-of-house
infrastructures is not likely to regard Breville as a competitor or lawsuit
target, but rather as a potential partner to progressively provide information
The possibility of some form of collaboration or agreement should
be considered by most companies as part of an effective landscape analysis.
Businesses must also better understand how competitors are
working with new partners and technologies. The medical device chief counsel says
that it is now more important to explore what others are doing in the
business’s space beyond standard freedom-to-operate searches.
“You should look at what your traditional competitors are
doing in areas such as automation or connectivity, because there may be some
things they are doing that you did not anticipate them doing before,” he says.
He adds that if competitors are accelerating their work with
various technologies and partners, their patent activity will similarly
escalate and the business can create a more informed strategy in order to get
“It is better to get ahead of that activity instead of
waiting to do freedom-to-operate work on the product they end up launching,” he
Twigg agrees that it is important to be proactive with standard
competitor analyses, but adds that a more important concern for his company is
knowing which competitors are more efficient, or effective, at strategically
identifying and securing powerful partners to leverage during the collaborative
The real risk to any company in the age of tech convergence,
he says, comes from direct competitors who strategically leverage the resources
of powerful partners with whom they are collaborating.
“It is not the converging party that worries us but rather
how its rights could be used against use by traditional and more contentious
competitors,” he explains.
The medical device chief counsel adds that – in the interest
of not antagonising new entrants – a more proactive analysis strategy can help the
company to not accidentally infringe on any patent portfolios that it
previously might not have considered a risk.
“In the past we had standard products, but now you might
have a product with a chip in it that connects in a hospital and that may beam
things into the cloud. There are so many different elements to the product and
you do not know who might come after you,” he says.
He adds that the Apples and Googles of the world are
unlikely to come after a medical device company for a making a traditional
product with some connectivity or unique technological feature. But when that
company pushes into more familiar areas to the tech giants, such as mobile
applications to help patients manage their health, they may be more inclined to
pursue their rights.
Tech and focus
The challenge for businesses looking to start a more
proactive analysis in an increasingly large and complex competitive landscape
is resources. The aerospace IP manager points out that his company and others
like it have small patent departments that cannot possibly cover all the ground
He says that one way his company has tried to interpret its
landscape more successfully is by developing analysis focal points.
“We have to make some choices about what we look at. We
cannot possibly look at every seat being developed by 3D printing or at every
company developing 3D printing.” He adds that the task becomes a matter of
identifying key companies or portfolios for the business to monitor.
The aerospace IP manager and medical device chief counsel
agree that another option is to make more use of external counsel if there are other
focal points that either the business does not have the resources or expertise
to cover, but should be monitored.
Sources point out that technology might also be the answer
to a challenge largely created by tech projects and partnerships. The vice
president of IP at a technology firm points out that businesses may want to
consider investing in artificial intelligence and other automation
“Automating prior art searches or augmenting that task can
support competitive intelligence,” he says. “Depending on what the business is
trying to achieve, it may help to create a high level insight into increasingly
Landscape analysis is becoming more complicated as
businesses increasingly invest in technology and develop new partnerships. The
landscape may be rockier but a more in-depth approach to competitive analysis,
done in a more focused way and aided by technology and outsourced resources,
will help chart the right path.