World Intellectual Property Organization

Support for Belgian industry by patent information activities

1. Background:

Today, nobody can deny the increasing importance of patents and patent information for business and industry, especially in a worldwide market economy. Contrarily, the knowledge and the technical information available in patents are still underestimated due to a lack of awareness and understanding of patents.

During the last years, patent offices and patent related organisations launched surveys and started campaigns to improve the awareness.

Many initiatives have been set-up in respect to the capacity of the entities.

Current challenging actions target mainly Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and universities in order to encourage the implementation of a patent culture.

Meanwhile "innovation" has grown to become the keyword of the 21st Century in Europe's competitiveness strategy. Regarding the Lisbon Agenda, many national as well as European activities have been raised in order to reach the objectives. Financial support systems on different governmental levels are established to stimulate innovation and its protection.

Interesting is the point where innovation and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) overlap. More particularly, patents protect technical innovations when they are novel, sufficiently inventive and industrially applicable.

Currently, counterfeiting and enforcement of patent rights are very hot items on the Europe's agenda.

So, considering the foregoing, what more can a small patent office offer to support its customers in order to raise patent awareness and the use of patent information in their daily business ?

2. Overview of the Activities:

Mainly, the following two major tasks of the Belgian patent information section could be mentioned.

  • Firstly, a patent searching service that enables to execute several kinds of patent analyses, requested by customers.

The tremendous progress of free patent databases on the internet during the last years, made patent information more accessible even for non experienced users. Hence, experienced users use these tools frequently for rapid screening of patents. The threshold to get the information is rather low which make these sources very popular.

Our target here is to guide the user in his premature steps in order to find the patent information and to proceed with a more extensive patent search by using the patent databases platform of the EPO. We'll explain this more in detail below.

  • Secondly, patent awareness training based on a customised approach.

Based and adapted to the needs of the users, differentiation by technical fields and practical cases, a personalised approach is the ultimate objective. Several sessions have been organised and requested by university and high-school students, engineers, IP advisors, researchers, future attorneys and lawyers. Mainly, training sessions are focused on patent searching, the interpretation and usage of the search results.

Within the framework of the EPO patent academy, specialised seminars have been organised by the Belgian Intellectual Property Office with the cooperation with the EPO.

Additionally, a patent library is free accessible for customers who need professional assistance or patent documentation. Further, the patent information section participates in national and international conferences and exhibitions. Last but not least, we are joining several IP related networks.

3. Importance for the Industry:

First of all, before we illustrate the importance of patents and patent information for SMEs in the sequence to valorise their innovations, we briefly explain the several kinds of patent searches that we provide.

  • Informative patent searches with the goal to discover the patent portfolio of a competitor or their latest developments in a particular technical field.

This kind of information enables a close follow-up of the patent strategy of one's competitors.

  • Patent searches to find out if a product, that has been seen on the market, is the subject of a published patent application or a patent.

Very often, products are accompanied with the inscription "patent pending or patented" and one wants to know the real protection status of the product and its territorial coverage.

  • Prior art searches in order to evaluate if your invention is novel and sufficiently inventive to file a patent application.

This kind of information deals with the state of the art in order to discover patent literature that could inhibit the granting of your future patent application.

  • Patent searches to screen if a product or a process is free to sell on the market.

Freedom to operate searches offer you the information to evaluate if still some "valid" patents can cause problems to commercialise your product for a particular territory.

  • Searching for "novelty destroying" or "lack of inventive step" enables to oppose a patent or to build a defensive strategy.

When infringing someone's patent, digging in prior patent literature could help to prove one's rights.

  • Providing patent data by regularly informing about the developments in patent literature in a specific technical field.

Keeping up-to-date patent information of the latest developments to monitor the behaviour of your competitors, discovering new players, analysing core technologies and fostering or incubating new ideas.

  • Patent searches to extract strategic or economical data.

A statistical approach to analyse patent data in order to extract trends and strategies.

The foregoing list enables the user to build a strategy and to adapt his business or research policy.

Like already mentioned before, since 1998 free patent databases and metadata business analysis tools have emerged on a large scale. Besides this, commercial patent database providers developed more sophisticated patent mapping tools.

Nevertheless, still SME barriers like time, needs, confidentiality, costs and human resources should be challenged and discussed to establish a patent strategy.

In the next point, we'll show with a few examples that the extraction of patent data provides valuable information to orient the business strategy.

4. A Few Practical Examples:

The two following examples will demonstrate the importance of the use of patent information in a structured way.

When a company screens the patent portfolio of one's competitors, technical, legal, economical and strategic information could be generated. One gets an overview of the technical developments of his competitors. A quick scan can be done in order to verify if these products are commercialised. Does the patent description and more particularly the claims correspond with the product on the market ? What is the geographical strength of the patent and is it still valid in all those countries ? Can I exploit the technical information available in the patent without infringing it ? A patent portfolio combined with a licensing strategy could give you important information on the impact of the patent. Moreover, oppositions against patents are very interesting data in order to distinguish the technical fields and its players.

Starting from this point looking for new or alternative solutions, creative ideas and design around could be used to build one's strategy. Using existing technologies derived from other technical fields could be helpful in order to solve a particular technical problem in one's own technical field.

Ideally, a new patent application is born.

A second example determines the importance of a first patent monitoring strategy when important business decisions have to be taken. Before starting research or within the premature steps of research, a state of the art search could already detect some unexpected traps. Moreover, when considering a patent application, huge costs can be prevented and business decisions could be reoriented. Decisions to be taken during licence negotiations, in order to estimate the real value of the patent, preferably, are preceded by a patent analysis. Finally, we know that SMEs are very often in a fragile position in order to take quick decisions and time is very expensive. So, a well-informed and patent minded SME has this strategic advantage.

5. Conclusions:

Many initiatives to raise IPR awareness have been set-up by different international organisations. Consequently the number of free patent databases or sources is still increasing and improving.

Nevertheless, it still remains difficult to reach SMEs to explain them the diverse way of using patent information.

Basically, providing a patent information training, discussing IPR issues from man to man and conducting patent searches are interesting starting points in order to valorise further steps.

Fast and concise patent information exchange and communication are important strategic instruments for today's industry. So, the objective to differentiate in a cooperative way remains a challenging topic for the coming years.

More details about our services are available on

Best Practice by (Nico Deconinck, Belgian intellectual property office patent information section)

Please, don't hesitate to contact for further details:

Nico.deconinck@economie.fgov.be
Tel. +32 2 277 82 02

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