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How many patents does it take to build an iPhone? By Lindsey Gilroy & Tammy D'Amato
11/18/2009 11:51:21 AM

 The role of the patent portfolio iin the age of complex product development.


The products around us are getting smarter every day.  Gone are the days when an individual product served a single funtion and could be protected with a single patent.  Want a cell phone that is also a video camera, a compass, a flashlight and a music store? Don’t forget a GPS device and a web browser and you’ve got the iPhone. As products grow more complex, they integrate increasingly diverse components. Those components themselves evolved from the development of multiple and varying technologies. Rooftop solar panels may be one component on the total product that is the Prius hybri car, but the technologies behind photovoltaic cells range from the refinement of industrial materials to substrate chemicals, from semiconductor manufacturing to information technology and electronic components. Each technology area is built up by a myriad of patented innovations. Even within a single company, there are many patents protecting each innovation.

Most products are protected by a multitude of patents that can be grouped into portfolios at the product, component or technology level. All too often Intellectual Property managers focus on the value of a single breakthrough patent, but this outlook is as outdated as the idea that a phone is just a phone. Individual patents form technology clusters that contribute to the components of a product . In the example of E-Ink, the product produced is the Amazon Kindle, the relevant component is the electronic ink display, and yet E-Ink has over 148 patents and 96 pending applications protecting three component technology areas. As classified by International Patent Classification (IPC) codes, they are: G09G (electro-optic displays), G02B (electro-optic materials) and G02F (optical switching, modulating or converters). The patent portfolio is stronger than the sum of its individual patents. To maintain a competitive edge in IP, modern companies need a new way of looking at patents – shifting focus from the individual patent to the technology portfolio that creates or provides support for a given product.

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