Wednesday, January 8, 2014

An Answer in Chaos

Enter "percent of patents that don't make money" into Google and you can see the chaos.  From the first page you find claims that over 98% of patents never get commercialized yet, somehow, only 97% percent of patents lose money.  And if you follow these numbers to the source you wind up in endless loops of hearsay and popular media cross-references.  I chased one of these chains of unsubstantiation back to the 60's.  

The numbers regarding patents can be huge.  In March 2013, Monsanto and DuPont settled a patent infringement lawsuit for $1.75 billion.  In 2011, Nortel's patent portfolio was sold in a bankruptcy auction for $4.5 billion.  Yet the conventional wisdom and anecdotal evidence are also clear:  many patents don't seem to be worth very much. 
So what's a patent worth?  

A study of patent value, called PatVal-EU, was published by the European Union in 2009.  PatVal-EU was a survey of inventors of patents initially filed with the European Patent Office between 1993 and 1997.  While the intent of the survey was to look at characteristics of inventors, it included a question asking the inventor to estimate the minimum price that the patent owner would have sold the patent rights for on the day the patent was issued.

Based on a sample of 7,754 patents, the top line number was that the average European patent was worth about $8.5 million.    But before we start running with these scissors, there are some problems:

First, the data is skewed.  While the average patent in the study was worth $8.5M, when you dig into the data you find:

The bottom 83% of patents probably averaged closer to $380k
The bottom 67% of patents probably averaged closer to $175k
The bottom 45% of patents probably averaged closer to $  72k
The bottom 25% of patents probably averaged closer to $ 25k

Interestingly, you find that no more than 8% of the patents can be described as truly worthless but up to 25% of patents may be valued for less than the direct costs of acquiring the patents.

Second, this is self reported survey data which creates statistical concerns of bias in who responded, bias towards industries that value patents more highly, and how impartial inventors will actually be about their inventions.  Unfortunately, it is also difficult to identify someone other than the inventor who would be more qualified to answer the question.   

Finally, there is a problem with what I call the German issue.  Specifically, when the data is adjusted with a dummy variable to identify German inventors, the average patent valuation was cut almost in half.  It is unclear whether this is because German patents are worth more or because Germans value their patents more.

So in the end, the data finds some truth in the conventional wisdom.  Many patents probably lose money.  But the number of losers is far less than 97%. 

Below is a summary of selected patents that have been recently issued in textile related classification codes:

Unobtrusive High-End Ready to Wear Concealable Body Armor:  Torso body armor made to look like the vest of a three piece suit.  Patent #:  8555412.  Inventors:  Aquino,  Not Assigned.

Crimp-Imbalanced Protective Fabric:  Multi-layer fabric armor that incorporates different crimp properties in the individual fabric layers.  This is accomplished by coating the yarns before fabric formation with a removable coating that appears to vary the size of the fabric.  Patent #: 8555472.  Inventor:  Cavallaro.  Assignee:  The United States Of America As Represented By The Secretary Of The Navy.

One Piece Footwear:  Flat piece of material that can be attached to the ankle and at least one toe to become a shoe.  Patent #:  8555524.  Inventors:  Hammerbeck,  No Assignee.

Resilient Shoe with a Pivoting Sole:  A shoe with springs mounted in the heel to improve sole resiliency when walking and additional elastic connections that limit the motion of the sidewall.  Patent #: 8555526.  Inventor:  Elnekaveh.  No Assignee.

Weighted Shoe Insole and Method of Making the Same:  Weighted shoe for sports training.  The process is that they make an insole with cavities that they fill with a relatively dense material (heavier than water).  Patent #:  8561237.  Inventor:  Stratten,  Assignee:  Stratten Performance Group, LLC. 

Device and Method for Repairing a Knitted Article:  A device that repairs a dropped stitch by taking the first stitch in a hook and recovering a second stitch in a second hook without releasing the first stitch.  Patent #:  8561433.  Inventor:  Kellogg.  Not Assigned.

Circular Knitting Machine, a Method for Knitting an Article with a Circular Knitting Machine and an Item of Clothing:  A circular knitting machine and a method for knitting an article with such a circular knitting machine, wherein the article is at least partially knitted by a reciprocating rotational movement of a needle cylinder in a forward direction and a backward direction.  Patent #: 8561434.  Inventor:  Busi.  Assignee:  Steps Holding B.V.

Braided Carbon Nanotube Threads and Methods of Manufacturing the Same:  A low tension braider capable of braiding carbon nanotube filaments which have low breaking strength in the linear direction.  The braiding process improves this strength.  Patent #:  8561514.  Inventor:  Head,  Assignee: Atkins and Pierce, Inc.

Workpiece Holder:  A workpiece holder usable with an embroidery sewing machine including a needle bar movable upward and downward and a transfer mechanism transferring the workpiece in two directions.   Patent #:  8561560.  Inventor:  Kawaguchi and Yamasaki.  Assignee:  Brother Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha

Weaving Apparatus:  This is a device that weaves friendship bracelets.  Patent #: 8561650.  Inventors:  Wijerama,  Assignee:  Horizon Group USA, Inc.

Fabric, Fabric Manufacturing Method and Seat:  This is a way to make a seat fabric composed of elastic and non-elastic yarns in a way that reduces wear on the fabric caused by people getting in and out of the seats.  Patent #:  8561651.  Inventors:  Watanabe and Yamada.  Assignee:  Toyota Boshoku Kabushiki Kaisha.

Three Dimensional Weaving Surface:  A weaving process for direct manufacture of three-dimensional structures with bidimensional walls with corners, without the need for sewing or other assembly between two ridges. The weaving is made by transforming weft threads into warp threads for making at least one face. The process is particularly adapted for the weaving of reinforcing elements for composite structures of corner fitting type.  Patent #:  8561649.  Inventors:  Legrand,  Assignee:  Airbus Operations S.A.S

Jim Carson is a principal of RB Consulting, Inc. and a registered patent agent.  He has over 30 years of experience across multiple industries including the biotechnology, textile, computer, telecommunications, and energy sectors.  RB Consulting, Inc. specializes in providing management, prototyping, and regulatory services to small and start-up businesses.  He can be reached via email at or by phone at (803) 792-2183.

No comments:

Post a Comment