3. How much does it really tell you when a company applies for a patent in a new technology area?

Internet posts saying some company or other has applied for a patent in a new technology are quite common – here’s an example. How significant is that? On its own, probably not very. For most companies, it indicates a direction of thinking but doesn’t necessarily signal a significant new business strategy. A patent is applied for when people in a company involved in innovation come up with something the company might commercialise. Decisions are made quickly as the window for applying is quite narrow – the basic rule is that any patent application must be filed whilst the innovation is still secret. Where the line is between YES and NO is company-dependent. But it’s the nature of business that many patent applications are filed speculatively, just as insurance policies are taken out for contingencies. In 2011, the ratio [pending patent applications] : [patents in force] was 20X the ratio ten years earlier.

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