Equifax, a $2 billion credit reporting company, hopes to improve its innovation reputation. It has instituted a New Product Innovation index that calls for products launched in the past three years to bring in 10% of the revenue at each of the company's five business units every year. Equifax has received nine patents in the past two years, with two more pending.
Its patented technology for detecting theft of children's identities is part of a family plan credit-monitoring product Equifax launched in March.
Patents carry benefits in addition to forming new products to sell. They have financial value as an asset on the balance sheet. They also enhance the corporate brand, maybe even the stock price, Lanza says. "They confer the sense there's value at the company beyond just what's on the table."
Creating Patent Strategy
Assessing the potential of intellectual property (IP) isn't a task for the CIO alone, even if the IP is based on IT. At Humana, ongoing discussions between the technology, law, product development, innovation and other groups clarify whether and how the company pursues legal protections, LeClaire says. Knowing the value of what you have takes many experienced eyes. Humana employees undergo training to understand intellectual property and the legal protections it can receive, in part so they don't inadvertently reveal sensitive information. Allstate does that, too.
The public nature of the process at the patent office may influence decisions on whether to pursue protection, says Rich Adduci, CIO of Boston Scientific. Once an application is filed, the information in it usually goes public. "People can leverage that to create adjunct innovations," he says. Adduci is a named inventor on two patents from 2008 for work he did as a consultant at Accenture. "There are cases where you wouldn't want a patent because you will have to disclose things you don't want to. You have to be selective," he says.
To further protect its ideas, Allstate filed what's called a nonpublication request, which asks the patent office not to publish the vast majority of its 100 pending applications, the company's spokesman says. There is no fee to do it, but the trade-off is that you lose protection outside the United States.
Sometimes, the time and expense of chasing a patent would be wasted. A company may invent a unique system or method but it's so buried within a process that you'd be unable to tell whether anyone infringes. "If you can't figure that out by readily available data points," Lanza says, "why file?"