Thirty Minutes a Week Keeps You Ahead of the Competition

You can’t compete in today’s marketplace without tracking the activities of your competitors. It’s the only way to know that you are really out in front or if you will be late to the party. While you naturally read all of their scientific publications, are you also tracking their IP activities? There is a lot of competitive intelligence to be gained by monitoring patent and trademark applications.

In this installment, I show you how to do some of this competitive intelligence on your own. And, you can do it using free, on-line databases. Once you see the benefits, you can then decide whether to allocate funds for external support of this valuable information-gathering function. In Part 2, I’ll show you how use IP positioning to maximize your competitive edge.

Tracking Patent Applications

You probably already know who your major competitors are. Searching for and reading their patent applications and journal articles is something you should be doing.

Yet sometimes it’s the smaller company that hasn’t quite made a presence for itself that represents the biggest threat to your development work. How then do you find that company and learn about its work?

The trick is crafting a search that narrowly finds the technology of interest. Here’s how: Search for a patent or two that is in the area of your work; the closer the better. Perhaps it’s your own published application or one from a known competitor. Look for the US or International Classifications on the face of the document. Combine those classifications with descriptive search terms, and then execute another search. Look for the key inventors and assignees in the results, and search yet again on those specific inventor names and company names.

Some Words of Caution – Rule 56

When you file a patent application, US law requires that you disclose any information that may be material to patentability. Performing searches will undoubtedly turn up references of interest. Before you start searching, discuss with your IP counsel how you will handle the results, should they be closely related to your work. Failure to disclose certain references could put your IP rights in jeopardy.

Monitoring Trademark Applications

This is very powerful for some areas of development. Companies are allowed to file for trademark approval in the US before they actually use the mark in commerce. The application is made with intent-to-use and can be filed up to 3 years ahead of the actual use without any loss of priority. Some companies apply even earlier.

Monitoring the trademark application activity of a competitor will provide insights into their new product activities because a description of the goods or services must be provided with the application. And, while an applicant can start with a broad description and narrow it later, careful reading may allow identification of the newer goods or services.

Perform searches on the mark holder using your list of companies from the patent searches.

You should also perform searches on the description of goods and services field by specifying the same goods or services you are developing. You might discover additional companies to examine for patent activity. Cross check this list against the one developed from your patent search, and you will have a comprehensive picture of active competitors.


After a few rounds of searching, you will develop a refined, targeted search that will alert you to competitor activity. In as little as 30 minutes a week, you’ll be up to date on new developments that may have gone unnoticed.

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