Patents filed for technology related to drones have quadrupled since 2013/14 with a big jump in 2016/17. Yet, drones have been around in one form or another for decades. Why now, are big companies like Amazon and Walmart competing for patents in the drone field? And, why should your organisation follow suit?
What are patents and how are they used?
Most people involved in tech have a reasonable, basic understanding of what a patent is. Unfortunately, not many businesses, often with fledgling operations, understand how to develop their patent portfolio and understand why it is so important.
Patents are registered intellectual property rights, and give the registered owner the exclusive right to that invention (monopoly rights).
In short, patents can have both an offensive and defensive value for your business but classically, patents are used offensively. For instance, a valid granted patent means you could enforce your rights against competitors who do certain things without your permission. Defensively, a valid granted patent may reduce the likelihood of you being sued (litigation can often be a costly exercise). It may also block out your competitors from the market completely. Even if a design-around is possible, the competitor’s final product is likely to be sub-standard and will have increased their design time and costs.
If you are in the field of drone technology, there are several other reasons why you should be thinking about a patent portfolio for instance:
1. A patent portfolio can generate revenue through licensing agreements
2. If you are a UK tax paying company, you can often claim tax relief on a patented product (Patent Box)
3. A patent portfolio looks much more attractive to investors during funding rounds
Who is currently filing for patents relating to drones?
The usual aerospace giants are included in the applicants’ list, although some less obvious companies are also getting involved.
It has been well documented that Amazon intend to roll out a drone-based delivery system. In fact, Amazon have filed around 50 applications in each of the last three years. Amazon are not alone, with other retail giants also competing for a share of this space with Walmart filing more patent applications than Amazon in the financial year of 2018/19.
This is promising news for smaller organisations. These patents are proving that drone technology can be both capitalised upon, and protected.
So is it time to fly your ideas? The evidence indicates a clear yes! (Just speak to your patent professional first).