Thursday, 14 January 2010

Patents - Do Guys Think You’re Worthless?

Hidden away in Vienna, the European Patent Office (EPO) has a Directorate of Databases and Promotion that offers IPScore, a “free-of charge tool to support the patent strategy of companies, mainly SMEs, and to steer the volume of applications by eliminating potentially “worthless” applications.” Intrigued, the Licensing Executives Society Britain & Ireland recently arranged for the EPO’s Johannes Schaaf to give an afternoon workshop on the tool.


Perhaps not surprisingly given its name, the tool is a scoring system of the kind familiar to many of us from women’s’ magazines (try e.g. cosmo_quiz_do_guys_find_you_intriguing). For each of forty questions about the target patent, the user is asked to choose one of five responses, each response having a different score. The questions fall into five groups covering “legal status”, “technology”, “market conditions”, “finance” and “strategy”.

On completion of the questionnaire, the user is provided with a radar plot illustrating the eight or so responses for each group of questions. As is usual with such plots, these can be used to highlight strengths and weaknesses of the patent. The tool also prepares a “quick and dirty” monetary valuation of the patent.

Using the tool on a portfolio of patents also generates a 4x4 grid illustrating the relative risk and opportunity of each portfolio member. This allows “worthless” high risk/low opportunity patents to be culled. Readers may recognize similarities here with the new product portfolio management work of Cooper and Edgett.

Herr Schaaf took pains to stress that IPScore was primarily a qualitative tool that provides a guide for locating potential gains / cost savings. Given that the tool demands answers from legal, technology, marketing, finance and strategy departments, he also suggested that it was a means for promoting dialogue about patents within the company.

Unfortunately, the limited time available did not allow discussion of the theory and data underlying the tool, which was apparently developed by the Copenhagen Business School in collaboration with the Danish Patent Office. In particular, it was not clear whether all forty questions were given equal weighting or whether some, e.g. “what is the market growth in the business area where the patented technology is utilized” were weighted more heavily than others, e.g. “what is the status of the patent”. As often noted by Neil Wilkof on this blog (see e.g. here), IP is sometimes more crucial, sometimes less crucial to the success of a particular company and its activities.

The EPO are also targeting the tool at SMEs. Again, there was no time to explore the EPO’s reasoning for this: Does the EPO believe that large companies do not require help with patent strategy? Do large companies not have potentially worthless applications? Or does the EPO believe that large companies have better ways of managing their IP, in which case should not such techniques be made available to the IP managers of small technology companies, where IP may in fact be more important than in large companies?

This post was guest-blogged by Ian P. Hartwell


  1. I think IPscore, as any other similar tool, has to be recognized as a standard and then it might have a value. I think there are several variables to be added though, and the software of course cannot take into consideration marketing data and research trends, the system should be embedded in a platform retrieving public data from the web. Just an idea...

    Luca Escoffier

  2. It sounds not dissimilar to the UK IPO's tools for SMEs. Eg see