Collaborative Patenting and its Implications on the Future of IP

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“What’s interesting about collaborations is the possibility for one plus one to equal three.”   ~Rei Kawakubo 

Collaboration across diverse fields and in myriad activities appears to be the latest global trend. The benefits of cooperation in inspiring fresh ideas and innovation are being accepted worldwide. This new trend is being embraced in the patent landscape as well with an increasing number of companies pooling their resources to increase efficiency and reinvent the nature of work. Let us understand the nature of IP collaboration and what it promises for the future. 

Table of Contents

Genesis of Patents

To understand why IP Collaboration is an exception rather than a norm, let us first delve into the evolution of patents and what makes them unique. In the 15th Century, patents were referred to as “royal grants of industrial monopolies”. It was only in the 18th century that patents as we know them evolved and were representative of the legal right to property of an invention. Multiple amendments to their definition and rights have been made since then.  

A number of supporting frameworks also emerged alongside patents to streamline the development process, notable among them are Standards Development Organizations, patent pools etc.  These consortiums were to be instrumental in the proper distribution of IP assets and their integration into the end product.  

Standards Development Organizations (SDO), also referred to as Standards Setting Organizations (SSO) use a consensus-based model to develop, coordinate, publish, amend, interpret, and disseminate standards. ITU, 3GPP, and ETSI are a few examples of SSOs. Patent pools, on the other hand, are 2 or more companies who decide to jointly license their patents to a 3rd party. The “Sewing Machine Combination” (1856) holds the distinction of being the first patent pool in the USA. MPEGLA, Avanci etc. are some of the modern-day patent pools. 

There also exist defensive patent aggregators (DPA) to help companies overcome challenges from Patent Assertion Entities. DPAs act as patent intermediaries to pre-empt patents that PAEs might target.  

The above-mentioned organisations are representative of the collaborations that exist in IP. However, there is a need for deeper collaborations in future to enable sustained innovation  

Collaborative Patenting

While the purpose of patents is to foster innovation and reward the inventor, open research and collaborations are proving more advantageous to companies. The proponents of collaborative patenting point to the rise of monopolistic tendencies as well as exorbitant R&D costs involved in creating new products/tech. It becomes a hurdle for those without the necessary means to pay for the patenting process or licensing.  

Open innovation on the other hand will open the doors for agencies, governments, companies, and inventors to work together towards a mutually desired goal. The merging of people from diverse fields and backgrounds will encourage a multi-disciplinary and transnational approach to problem-solving. Some of the notable benefits of IP collaboration are: 

Investors are increasingly leaning towards collaborative research to devote their funds. When intended research is supported by various agencies and allows for a broad implication, it automatically becomes an attractive avenue for investors. 

When companies and experts from varied disciplines pool together their resources, they are able to expand the scope and complexity of research to grander levels.  

A division of workload that assigns specialised tasks to experts and divided the generic ones among other members of the team leads to better time management and optimum utilisation of resources. This translates to the most efficient output possible in a given scenario. 

Collaborative research significantly reduces the financial impact of risks associated with research on collaborating parties.  

A collaboration between researchers from various fields is a hotbed of learning opportunities. Being aware of the approaches in complementary disciplines to problem solving may stimulate new ideas and open avenues for new research that will benefit society at large.  

Patents for Partnerships

In May’2020, the USPTO introduced a six-month pilot program platform called Patents 4 Partnerships. The initial focus of the program was Covid 19 and the means to deal with the pandemic. It allowed for easy access to the inventions and patents associated with Covid 19. While the platform does not provide any assistance in collaboration for discovery, it did allow companies with similar interests to collaborate on various aspects.  

Conclusion 

Collaborating in tech research is a great way to merge talent pools and leverage core experience. Since most technology now enjoys cross-domain applicability, the scope for IP collaboration is burgeoning. Collaborative patents tend to have more claims, more backward citations and more novelty compared to exclusive patents. It also enables and encourages transnational research which makes the patenting process simpler for the companies involved. The future of the IP landscape can certainly build on this new trend of collaborative patenting to produce innovative results.    

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