By Chinh H. Pham, patent attorney, Greenberg Traurig LLP - Boston
It’s one thing to have a great product idea. It can be a real challenge, though, to figure out whether a budding technology is commercially viable within a specific industry – especially when it comes to videogames.
Companies and investors have relied on a number of criteria to measure viability, including timeliness, market demand, and competitive advantage. That’s fine when it comes to projecting performance in more established industries. It can be much harder to make those predictions in a new or still-emerging industry like videogaming.
When it comes to finding the greatest opportunities, game developers may want to look at the US patent system. The information available in such resources as the US Patent and Trademark Patent Database can provide insight into, among other things, early trends in technological advances. With patent wars raging and tech companies of all stripes stockpiling patents to protect their intellectual property, the information contained in the patent database can be an effective means for finding the next great technology.
A game developer may look toward the number of patents issued or applications filed in the videogame sector to gain insight into a particular trend or focus, the potential for commercial exploitation, and emerging markets for such technology. For example, a search of the USPTO database using the terms “video game” and “controller” returned approximately 400 videogame controller technology patents issued in 2012 alone. For a late entrant to a videogame category, the number of patents issued or applications filed can help determine the risks associated with entering such a market. In other words, it can provide real competitive intelligence.
A game developer might also look to the ownership information to determine who the competitors may be and whether there’s ample room in the marketplace for a particular game category or application of a game technology. Now, even though there may be but a few competitors, the barrier to entry could still be high. If it turns out that the number of patents issued to or owned by these competitors is relatively high, then the opportunity for that particular category or application may be minimal.
You might also look to the citation information of patents to determine risks and opportunities. When a patent has been repeatedly cited by others, such information can indicate licensing potential. If you are looking to establish a dominant position in a gaming area, you may want to enhance your portfolio by acquiring repeatedly cited patents. Alternatively, repeated citations can be indicative of potential roadblocks to overcome when expanding the technology outward, unless there is a possibility of entering into a cross-licensing relationship with the owner of the oft-cited patent.
The scope of a patent claim may also be used as an indicator. The broader the scope of protection covered by the patent, the more likely it may be that the patent owner has the ability to block competition in a particular area.
The trick is to become familiar with the information available, and use it to enhance your strategic thinking. There’s tremendous value in adding patent information to the treasure trove of intelligence you can assemble when developing new products or technology. The hours you spend examining the patent landscape before committing to a certain path may be the best play you can make when it comes to creating a killer product.
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