Your R&D department sees potential in a product, material or market. Needless to say, they will do their own research into this. However, they will not always do this from an intellectual property perspective. That is a missed opportunity, and you also run the risk of investing a great deal of time and effort in a project with limited potential. The solution? Landscaping.
I can explain what this is and what it could mean for you based on some research we recently conducted for Waterstof Magazine. Together with my colleague Walter Hart, I looked into the prospects for innovative entrepreneurs in the field of hydrogen (see this article (in Dutch). This is a growing industry which is fairly segmented. There are products (and companies) that focus specifically on the production of hydrogen, while others focus on fuel cells, or the storage or distribution of hydrogen. Each sector is developing at its own pace. A patent database provides a good insight into all those developments. If you put them side by side, you will see the full patent landscape, which is what is referred to as landscaping.
We examined all four sectors and discovered that innovation in the field of hydrogen production and fuel cells is already at a far advanced stage. There already appeared to be clear frontrunners; companies and countries in which lots of innovations have already been patented. These sectors are therefore particularly interesting if you want to come up with a small modification of a technology that has already been patented. A ground-breaking product with a large scope of protection is a lot more difficult.
However, in the field of hydrogen storage and especially in the field of distribution, that market looks totally different. Much less intellectual property has been patented and there are no real technological leaders. Innovations in these sectors are more challenging (it is much more a question of having to 'reinvent the wheel'), but also have more potential.
Sectors, countries, materials
Landscaping provides information that is relevant even before you take your first step in R&D. And that information can be as broad or as specific as you want. In this case we compared sectors, but the same is possible for specific countries or materials. Suppose, for example, that you want to develop Teflon sheets, landscaping may show that competition is fierce if you want to use these for frying pans or ships, but a great deal less fierce in the space industry.
More than Google
Landscaping is an initial exploration. A way to discover what others are doing, so that you are in a better position to know what you can and are allowed to do. But with resources that not everyone has at their disposal. A patent attorney will always find more information in a database than you can Google yourself. Moreover, this will not just give a general picture, but really show what other people's rights are in a market, country or specialist field.
Only once you have clearly mapped that landscape will you know what direction you can take with your R&D and what resources you will need for that!