A client case on how a small patent department in a multinational industrial corporation achieved R&D approval by using knockout searches.
The ambition was to push the innovation process forward. This was to be achieved by creating an early awareness of existing technology to guide R&D into making good business decisions. The focus was to start as early as possible working with ideas rather than inventions and perform patent searches to provide the basis for the next step of innovation.
The project had three stake holders, R&D engineers, the patent department and Uppdragshuset, where we had to identify challenges and find pragmatic solutions. This had to be performed before introducing patent searches to the R&D in an early phase of innovation.
What were the challenges for R&D?
Since our client’s R&D engineers and patent data seldomly crossed roads there was a view that patents were gibberish and only trouble. Here we had a cultural objection and needed to identify how to overcome this by defining challenges for the R&D engineers. Three parameters were identified by the client that could be challenges for this project, and that together we wanted to minimize:
- Time, the inventors are extremely engaged when they get their ideas, and to encourage them we wanted them to feel that they have our attention and therefore the turnaround time should be short
- Report length, R&D engineers are interested in developing and not reading long reports so the report format should be condensed
- Number of documents, same as above development time and not reading time is the priority and therefore the number of documents should be low
What were the challenges for the patent department?
The small size of the patent department requires the working process to be efficient. Three parameters were addressed by the patent department as challenges for this project that need attention:
- Time, the patent department has limited resources and therefore they expected that the information specialist could make decisions on their own
- Budget, since the expectations were to perform searches on a high number of ideas then the budget should be low
- Search expectation, the expectations are that the ideas will be “fluffy”, and the target is to find the most obvious documents
The expectations were high since the client required experienced patent information specialists to perform searches without the taking up too much of the patent department’s time. On the other hand, the searches were to be kept within a reasonable budget as the ideas were only simple or concept based.
Together we defined a search format that was adapted to the requirements of the R&D and patent departments and could be realized by the information specialists. We called the search a knockout search, which would define for everyone involved that we were only looking for the most obvious documents, i.e., not a complete novelty search.
We started with a pilot of 10 searches to determine if expectations could be met. All stake holders selected people for this project that would provide feedback and act as internal ambassadors if needed. The following criteria would define the outcome of the pilot:
- Would R&D be satisfied with delivery format and time?
- Would patent department receive searches with high quality and minimal effort from their side?
- Would patent information specialists be able to take decisions on their own based on the fluffy and diversified materials received directly from R&D?
- Would the administration at Uppdragshuset be able to support very short turnaround time on search requests?
- Would this be a feasible long-term solution for all parties?
The end client and most important stake holder, the R&D engineers, were highly satisfied with delivery format and time, so we could state that the patent department and Uppdragshuset lived up to the expectations. There was a growth in interest in the KO searches throughout R&D based on the results and further searches were requested. Within one year 75 knockout searches were performed, the searches coming from several teams and business units, and with increasing interest within R&D since they identified that these searches could push the innovation process forward.
The most important factor for success was to involve R&D as a stake holder and provide them with an understanding of the terms they have, instead of teaching them about the complexity of patent searches and the long turnaround times for patent departments. By defining challenges or parameters to be met it was possible to fulfill all parties’ expectations. Setting up a pilot allowed us to determine if it would work for all stakeholders. There should not be compromises based on known formats for handling searches instead targets and challenges were used to create a suitable format
This is an industrial corporation, and the intention was not to take patents from being cost centered to being profit centered, but we could state that by R&D identifying that the outcome of these searches could push the innovation process forward then the patent searches have at least become investment centered. This could be a step in altering the view of patents in R&D and the company in general. In the end it would simplify and increase the status of the patent department’s role.