Patent information sites like Patently Apple (which covers Apple’s patent and trademark activity) remind us that patents often point toward larger strategies, or sets of strategies, beyond the details of the patent itself. Such patent-fueled strategies can have powerful downstream effects on competing brands in the same or adjacent markets. That’s why every brand sharpens its competitive analysis at the substrate (patent) level. My rule of thumb (erring on the conservative side) is that “Today’s patents are tomorrow’s brand strategies.” From a brand perspective, a patent can mark a potential path toward a new kind of customer, in a new customer platform, in a new market.
For the patent illustrated above, see Patently Apple’s full discussion here. The comments are informative.
Which way does this patent point?
While a site like Patently Apple is no substitute for in-depth competitive analysis, it may sometimes reveal the strategic brand intent behind new patent activity. In reviewing a patent, one might ask these questions: What new kind of customer could this patent create? What’s the intended platform? What customer dots does it connect? Can it lead to a new level of customer experience? Could it change the current customer context and in so doing change the game for current market players? What new market(s) might it create?
It’s the customer inside the patent that counts
From a brand perspective, it’s the (latent) customer inside the patent that counts. In the best of worlds, a patent would be conceived and executed within a strategy of brand innovation, so that the patent protects a unique domain of customer creation. In effect, the patent is the legal launch of a new kind of customer.
It also should be noted that sometimes the latent customer inside a patent may not be apparent to the patent applicant. This leaves the door open for competitors with better customer vision.
Mapping patents to a customer canvas
The real challenge in a brand analysis of patents comes in mapping patents to a forward-focused customer canvas, one containing different models of newly-empowered customers that the patent(s) might create. It’s always exciting when a patent points toward a new kind of customer beyond the conventional marketing model, where the patent itself is but one tiny step in a far-reaching roadmap—or better yet, brand journey.