Globally, 2.9 million patents were filed in 2015¹. That’s more than five new patents every minute. For those of us that have spent our careers in IP, this tidal wave of activity is demanding a dramatic shift in the way IP is viewed and managed.

In the past the IP department was left to itself. It was an office you went to when you needed to apply for patent protection. And it provided a largely reactive service – often requiring a visit to a specialist library where patent officers would spend hours hunched over enormous tomes in order to identify and make appropriate observations about the patent in question.


No more. Publication of patents on the internet has transformed patent search. The development of increasingly sophisticated search and analytical tools and algorithms should also have simplified the task of patent interpretation and management. But a variety of global factors are necessitating much deeper change.

Disruption in IP

First is the increased scrutiny of IP itself. Shareholders and C-level executives are much more aware of what can go wrong with IP, as well as what can go right. The R&D community want to be assured that what they’re working on is going to be commercially fruitful – requiring IP to be a fundamental consideration right from the start of the idea development process, not the end. And IP teams face challenges in making what was historically an esoteric subject far more transparent and accountable.

Next is the pressure to be more efficient, and constantly to do more with less – tough in a situation where global patent and trademark filings are growing by 7.8% and 15.3% respectively². The global landscape in patent and trademark applications is also changing. China achieved growth of 18.7% and 27.4% respectively in 2015³, compared to just 1.8% and 9.6% for the US, and a 2.2% decline in patent applications in Japan. So the fact that more patents are being filed by more competitors from more quarters than ever before has significant implications for everyone.

In terms of the global competitive environment, new entrants such as Tesla are making significant waves in existing markets, while the big global players are expanding into adjacent areas horizontally – witness for example Google’s forays into markets as diverse as medical records and autonomous vehicles. The result: many established businesses are being confronted by non-traditional, emerging competition, bringing new and additional IP challenges. 

As for legislation, 2014’s US Supreme Court ruling in the ‘Alice’ case regarding patentability of abstract ideas related to a computer-based system for financial transactions4, has cast significant doubt over the value of software patents in a variety of applications. Since in essence the ruling was that there was no innovative step involved in taking what was already a well-known process and enabling it through software, this has caused uncertainty across many industries in terms of what is patentable and what is not.

And then of course there’s the continuing convergence of technology, everything from Big Data to Industry 4.0 (the convergence of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things and cloud computing) – a subject we’ll examine in a future article in this series. 

The cumulative effect of all these trends is that IP professionals are grappling with a paradigm shift, including massively accelerating quantities and complexity of data and information, with which they are struggling to cope. Many still use manual or siloed legacy systems, or have been slow to embrace the new technologies available – a situation which is simply no longer tenable. 

To maximise IP ROI, businesses need to get on top of this new global landscape, and embrace it as a competitive opportunity, not a threat. And that means adopting an approach to IP that centres on creating agile IP teams, enabled by the best available tools, which focus on joining up activities across the entire IP lifecycle, and translating strategy into smart IP management practice that is truly ‘fit for purpose’.

Where to begin?

CPA Global is committed to helping customers succeed by addressing these critical business issues, optimising their IP management and maximising its value. In this series of articles we’re sharing our perspectives on the practical steps needed to achieve these goals.

Contact us to find out how we can help.