I am a patent nerd
What does that mean ? Well, that is not a standard terminology. I call myself patent nerd because I scout patent descriptions online (mainly Tech solution architecture patents). 99% of these patents have absolutely nothing to do with Supply Chains. So why do I explore patents then ?
Repurposing– Legally !
Have you ever used a tool that was designed for something entirely different and “Re-purposed” it for something completely different? This does not happen often. Why ? Because we are constrained by imaginary boundaries. Because we don’t promote the why culture. Because organizational cultures value “Yes Men/Women”. But if you look at many tools with a fresh perspective, many of them can be easily re-purposed in the world of Supply Chain analytics and Digital Supply Chains to build solutions that have not existed before.
So yes, that is what I aim to do when I scout patents. Many of these patents, White papers have some amazing applications in the world of Supply Chain. My obsession with patents at one point made me spend ~1400+ USD on a Patent agent website to apply for provisional patent of my own, just to scratch an itch.
But then I withdrew them. Why ?
The answer to this question steers us to the main topic of this article. Because during one of the calls, the agent told me few things:
- Provisional patent just means that your idea is Work in process, does not grant you patent (which I knew)
2. Even provisional patents are publicly available in USPTO database (Not good)
3. Technical or Solution architectures, unlike product blueprints, are not exactly enforcable (and he gave me examples)
The third point is the point that, though made me drop all my plans for provisional patents, is the one that is critical for companies to take into consideration when they apply for a patent.
Tech and solution architectures are pretty fluid these days
Technology today has evolved to a point where there are relatively easy and cost effective way to re-purpose any solution. Why do you think that the Market today is flooded with Analytics off the shelf and Enterprise AI solutions ? What used to a “Barrier to entry” and hence led to select few players, even in Supply Chain solutions space (like TMS), can be now easily “replicated”.
Technical architecture patents (vs Product Blueprint patents) immediately become a “new solution” by making certain changes to the architecture, hence there are only two scenarios when companies should file for patent for these solutions:
A. Market their innovation mojo to re-enforce their position as an innovator- Like Amazon
B. Show shareholders that we are also investing in innovation (Cosmetic innovation)- like most other companies do.
If you really want to use a solution to build a game changing capability, it is prudent to not patent it or market it, till you have scaled the solution enough to build a predominant gap between you and anyone chasing your capability. If you are a fellow patent nerd, you must have seen a patent from Amazon a couple of months ago which seemed like if they have patented the concept of Blockchain platform itself. Do they really think that now no one else can build that capability ? Nah! They know that by juggling things and relacing few things here and there, anyone can build the same solution within legal IP laws. In this case, they know that other than them, very few companies can actually chase that solution in the near term.
I saw a similar patent for Inbound load scheduling from Walmart. This one was a no brainer if they really wanted to build the capability. They should not have shared it. And the primary reason behing it is the lack of anything in that patent that can stop it from being re-purposed.But since the solution is pretty basic, I assume it was Innovation marketing. Otherwise, all you need is a small additional investment on top of a decent Smart yard management solution to build that capability, within few weeks.
So then what should you patent ?
Technology today has evolved to a point where there are relatively easy and cost effective way to re-purpose any solution. Why do you think that the Market today is flooded with Analytics off the shelf and Enterprise AI solutions ? What used to a “Barrier to entry” and hence led to select few players, even in Supply Chain solutions space (like TMS), can be now “replicated”.
But how is there no IP issue involved in these replications ? Because the underlying core technology, algorithms and Heuristics are generic, widely used and IP restrictions free.
Does that provide you some hint on what exactly you can patent or “keep secret”? Have you seen Amazon’s patent or any White paper sharing their core forecasting or demand planning algorithms ? The White papers you see are useful but nothing that you can use to “build an advantage”. Well, I will stop here, assuming that this has given you enough hint to decide on how to build your innovation marketing strategy. What can/should be patented, what remains an internal competency and what type of patents can be easily replicated without violating any IP laws.
Views expressed are my own.