Patents are a key source of technical and scientific information. As Luke Foster reports, by studying patent information, R&D teams can make more informed research decisions, and save time and money in their R&D pipelines.
One million patents are published every year, adding to more than 30 million patent documents already filed. This makes patents the largest single body of technological information in the world. 80 per cent of technical information is published in patents and often nowhere else, including the latest developments in drug discovery, the newest nucleic and amino acid sequences, and the most up-to-date processes and applications of biotechnology related research. And as patents have to contain enough detail for an expert specialising in the field to recreate the invention, they give a more detailed description than is normally disclosed in a research paper.
As Sarah Hamer, Life Sciences Director for Thomson Derwent, the world's leading provider of patent and scientific information, stresses: "Patent information helps you make informed decisions at every step of the R&D process, from the initial stages of your R&D pipeline, through to the marketing of your finished product“ (Fig. 1).
* Planning the direction of your research. Before deciding to invest large amounts of money on R&D in a specific area, studying patent information will help your organisation make an informed decision on where to best concentrate your resources. You can identify past and present research trends, and be the first to spot a growth area and seize the development initiative. Patents can also be the inspiration for new directions of research, or indicate new methodologies and interpretations for existing inventions.
Before your organisation makes a definite commitment to a research project, you can use patent information to conduct comprehensive, background research into the subject area.
* Implementing your R&D programme. Once you have decided on the direction of your R&D, patents are invaluable for identifying and validating potential targets. Patents are frequently used for target validation by pharmaceutical companies, as patents contain the information to predict the pharmaceutical and toxicological evaluation of potentially active compounds.
Patent information is equally useful for studying the clinical trials of related products and processes. Or if you hit difficulties in development, analysing patents will enable you to identify, headhunt and bring in experts in the field. Alternatively, you could use patents to identify a business partner, to complete the development of your product or process, or broaden your research into unexplored areas.
* Launching your new invention. Prior to the launch of your new product or process, patents are an unrivalled source of commercial intelligence. By viewing newly filed applications, you can ascertain when competing products are likely to be launched, and improve the timeliness of your response. You can also see, from the amount of overseas filings by a competitor, if a rival product will be marketed globally.
Once your product is launched, regular access to patent information will enable you to monitor potential infringements of your new idea. You can also use patents to look out for lucrative licensing opportunities, both for your organisation's inventions, and for the licensing in of promising products and techniques.
Enquiry No 102
Luke Foster is with Thomson Scientific, London, UK. www.derwent .com