Just how good is that patent?

May 25 2018

You may have a granted patent - but is it any good?

Patents can be a significant investment for a company or an individual. Examination can be hard, but hopefully at the end of the day you will end up with a patent.

But will this patent have any value? Forbes has estimated that 95% of patents fail to be licensed or commercialised, but this simple statistic may ignore many other benefits of owning patents, such as blocking your competitors, clear disclosure of inventions, and the latent threat against potential competitors. Putting this aside, it can still be worth asking 'is this patent any good?' - particularly if you are renewing or considering purchasing such a company. 

The traditional means (beside confirming the legal status of the patent) of asking this is to look at the invention or product that a patent claims. And while there are many good reasons for doing so, this approach may not consider that a technology and a patent may be to different things. A typical technology, say an improved mousetrap, can be valued pn the basis on market demand, trade secrets and manufacturing know-how, supply chains, brands and trade marks and of course projected cash-flow. 

In contrast, a patent on this improved mousetrap may only cover, for example, an improved spring - and where the same improved mousetrap is also protected by other patents claiming other improvements. It may not be clear how the value of the mousetrap correlates to the value of the patent for the spring.

What can help matters is to independently and objectively the assess the potential of the patents. One useful way of doing this is too look at similar patents - how many are being filed, who is filing them, and how the patent in question differs from them. This can help because:

  • The more commercially valuable an area is or is perceived to be , the more patents are filed. As a simple example of this, artificial intelligence is a hot topic is business at the moment, and so around 2000 patents for this has been published in the last 12 months alone, in 1700 patent families. In contrast "Six Sigma" has only led to 8 patents over the same time frame. Hence patent data alone will tell us that Artificial Intelligence is hotter than Six Sigma at the moment - not that we needed patent data to confirm this!
  • Similar and earlier patents can help you to determine what exactly is the inventive improvement over the prior art. 
  • Similar and later patent, to see if interest in this technology is continue.

Unfortunately, finding similar patents can involve hours of searching using conventional search tools.

Or we can rely on the AI smarts of the  Ambercite patent search tool to quickly find similar patents. For the rest of this blog, we will focus on the Ambercite approach to patent evaluation.

Case study - an improved mouse trap

As a demonstration, we might review a patent for in fact an improved mouse trap. US8418398 filed by Woodstream Corporation, cclaims an Electrocuting mouse trap with automatic chamber-clearing mechanism . Of note, this mousetrap also includes an electronic sensor to start the electrocution process. This patent has a priority date of June 2006.

Improved mousetrip

To analyses this patent in Ambercite is as simple as entering this into the Ambercite query box. We might start by looking for prior art - in other words, setting the date filter so that later patents are excluded.

The resulting query looks like this:

Mouse trap query.gif

The three most similar patents are shown below, but Ambercite could return many more similar patents, in fact up to 274 if you requested this - and many of the remain patents are also highly relevant. For example, the patent ranked #272 of thees 274 similar patents is titled  "Electric Trap for Mouses".

But for the purposes of this case study, we will only consider the top two patents on this list

The first patent on the list is US6836999, filed for a CPU-controlled, rearming, high voltage output circuit for electronic animal trap. This discloses an electrocuting mouse trap with a sensor, but without a trap door. 

Top patent.gif

This first patent is a 'known' citation, i.e. with the relevancy recognised by the patent examiner, as a backward citation. There are few of these, and sometimes it can help to review the US examiner reports for a patent prosecution to see which patents they focused on. I have done so for US8418398, and the examiner thought that the closest prior art patent was US1047682, for an Electric Rat Trap. This discloses an electrocuting rat trap, which has a separate chamber for disposing of the dead rats - but no sensor

Electric rat trap.gif


"Unknown" patents and earlier patents - what can they tell us?

What about unknown patents, ie not cited by patent examiners or applicants? Maybe the best prior art was missed by the examiner?

First on the list is US7530195, filed for a Electrocution animal trap with a sender.

first unknown patent found.gif

This does disclose a rodent trap, that does electrocute rodents, can incorporate electronic sensors, and does dispose of the electrocuted rodents. It was also published as early as April 2004, and has not been previously cited - and so may challenge the validity of the US8418398 patent. We will leave the question of whether the US8419398 patent is still valid in the light of the above patent to others, but this  exercise does demonstrate how we can objectively query the validity of a patent, which can greatly affect its value..

What can we learn from similar and later patents?

But what about the later patents? What can this tell us about the potential commercial value of this area?

This requires a similar query to before, but with the date filter set to after the priority date:

After query.gif

Even though we have asked for 50 patents in this case, a better test is to filter the results so that only patents with a similarity of 1 or more remain, as shown to the right:





similarity filter.gif

In this case, we found 19 patents with a similarity of 1 or more, with the top 4 patents shown below. This is a relatively low number of later and similar patents, when compared to other patents we have looked at.

Ambercite also has the ability to calculate Licensing Potential for the owners of these similar and later patents (contact the author for details of how to do this).

In the case, the Total Licencing Potential to companies other than Woodstream are very low. 

Total Licensing Potential.gif


This simple but objective analysis has suggested that for patent US8418398 that

  • There is a question mark over validity 
  • There has been little follow on activity in terms of filing of similar pateants, 

Overall, this would suggest that this patent may be of doubtful value - although it would also be worth considering whether any mousetraps filed by Woodstream or its competitors would be claimed by the patent. .

Would you like to evaluate your own patents in this rigorous and objective approach?

Contact us today to ask about subscribing to the highly unique Ambercite Ai patent search system. 

Besides patent evaluation, our users apply Ambercite to:

  • Patent invaliation
  • Patentability review
  • Licensing analysis

And all using the very intiutive and easy to use Ambercite AI approach.