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Steinbeis Guides SMEs Through the Patent Jungle

IP4SME – an online platform for evaluating and applying intellectual property rights for SMEs

The experts at Know-How + Transfer, a Steinbeis Innovation Center in Villingen-Schwenningen, have set up an international website to provide small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with practical support with managing intellectual property (IP), especially with respect to small businesses. The platform gives users access to all key information relating to commercial property rights, not just in Germany but throughout the world.

Globalization and digitalization are opening the door to a highly promising future for companies in all kinds of industries. Entering new markets is not just an opportunity to expand, but also to optimize product offerings. But to get it right, SMEs are often forced to follow the strategies of big companies, despite comparatively limited resources. To operate in global markets, commercial property rights – or more specifically patents and registered designs – are crucial, not just to protect a company’s own technology from copycats, but also to ensure the rights of third parties are not infringed upon in other countries.

As part of a project called IP4SME (intellectual property for small and medium-sized enterprises), an innovative online platform has been set up as a kind of one-stop shop, which provides all required information and services relating to commercial property rights. It was designed to reflect the kinds of issues encountered in international markets, acting as a web-based information forum to provide mainly small and medium- sized enterprises with reliable business information on any stage of the innovation or rights usage process. With intellectual property rights (IPR), this is typically information that was previously only available to big companies with big budgets. The platform has been set up in partnership with organizations in Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Ankara, and Athens. IP4SME provides a variety of tools for IPR evaluation, providing invaluable know-how through a network of IP experts.

The tools should prove particularly useful for SMEs in overcoming hitherto insurmountable obstacles. Within minutes, a fully automatic patent evaluation service gives patent holders a monetary value, providing immediate insights into the potential added value of a variety of IPRs. The collaborative network set up for the IP4SME project has proven particularly helpful in this respect, largely due to the contribution made by Lighthouse IP, which has subsidiaries in Amsterdam, New York, and Chengdu, and is a global leader in property rights information. Its service pulls together its own in-house data records from information spanning over 100 patent offices. Thanks to a specially programmed licensing matching engine, it is possible to automatically connect the parties that register and own property rights with potential licensees. Compared to previous systems, this is a highly novel approach and this is reflected specifically in the enhanced efficiency of procedures, especially when it comes to rights usage and the amount of time and money invested in the process.

The nature of globalization is dictated by the challenges faced and these are reflected in another way in this revolutionary new service: one of the core competences offered by Lighthouse IP is the high quality of its translations of Chinese patent documents. This is an absolute must, so it is an integrated part of the IP4SME platform, much to the benefit of users. Companies that fail to pick up on the exponential rise in Asian patents in the European and US markets will lose market share, become less competitive, and even risk going out of business.

This reality was taken into account when designing the new system, so the different parties involved in IP4SME aim to bolster the ties between Europe and the United States. The project is making it much easier to get in touch with all kinds of international experts. Now patent marketing agencies, IP headhunters, translation agencies, patent attorneys, and other key players can be approached; users can contact exactly the right person. For example, the special software helps firms identify patent attorneys considered leading experts in certain fields of technology based on different categories. This is of obvious benefit to users. Based on past registrations, users can see which law firms already possess a wealth of knowledge regarding a certain type of technology or the state of developments, so naturally it will be in a position to provide particularly professional advice and directly address key issues.

There is another aspect regarding the platform that is extremely important for potential users: It allows for use of a tool provided by the InTra- CoM Group, which automatically assesses patents and comes up with a monetary value. This also makes things significantly easier for companies involved in the innovation process. The software package works with a variety of parameters using a technique based on recognized scientific methods. As such, it’s easy to quickly identify and evaluate patents, patent families, and patent registrations. Having the Steinbeis experts in Villingen-Schwenningen involved, who have been working in the field of copyright protection for over 20 years, helps maximize IP know-how through an e-learning tool. The Steinbeis specialists have experience with a variety of projects revolving around innovation management, not only with private companies but also as a catalyst for state organizations in areas relating to funding and backing, training and continuing professional development, IPR management, and a variety of utilization scenarios. As such, they add considerable expertise to the IP4SME initiative and this manifests itself specifically in the running of web-based training for SMEs, thus helping the different parties gain a significant advantage over competitors who have no such access to detailed information.

For the next part of the project, the team plans to launch a patent exchange forum to bring together rights owners with buyers or licensees, who will also be given support with rights exploitation. The project offers major potential for companies to innovate and although some things take time, in the meantime, one thing that’s certain is that involving different parties in the planning and design of the IP4SME concept is adding significant value. For SMEs operating in sectors of industry marked by strong innovation, it is an excellent solution that is in tune with modern requirements. The analytical approach adopted is totally in keeping with the underlying principles of the Steinbeis slogan: Technology.Transfer.Application.

To mark official announcements regarding the project, the team at the Steinbeis Innovation Center will be organizing three conventions in partnership with the other parties in the project consortium. The opening convention will take place in March 2017 in the Steinbeis House in Stuttgart and there will be two further events in April 2017 in Chengdu and in June 2017 in New York.