How to become a serial patentee? - Patent behaviour analysis

Anna Pohle
Fraunhofer IMW

By inventing and commercializing new technologies, research organisations play a vivid role within an innovation system. Patents are a first step into commercialization of research ("throughput") and signal interest of a researcher in commercial transfer (OECD 2013). As they represent new, technological inventions they the base for innovations. To support patenting of new technologies, research organisations and specifically technology transfer offices (TTOs) have established different incentives to foster patenting. However, in between and within research organizations, the patent activities of researchers varies a lot. Therefore, this study focuses on the behaviour and environment of high performers in patenting. Inspired by the term serial entrepreneur -a person who engages in multiple start-ups (Wright et. al 1997)- the term serial patentee is used in this study to describe a researcher, that is patenting continuously.
The research enlarges the existing discussion by differentiating between non-inventors, one-time inventors and serial patentees. In particular, it analyses differences in their organizational behaviour/ mind-set of researchers. Organizational behaviour in this context tries to understand how researchers can be motivated to change their behaviour towards more inventions - in terms of patents. This study examines the impact of organisational culture and former experiences on patent activities of researchers. Hartmann (2006) showed that organizational culture plays a critical role in motivating innovative behaviour. Also Blind et al (2009) proved that strategic aims of an organization influence the corresponding patent portfolio. Numerous studies have shown that former experiences shape future behaviour. Haleblian et al (2006) showed that prior and recent acquisition performance enhances the propensity of subsequent acquisition. The application of a patent has a high entry barrier in terms of knowledge about the patent process. Since this is a learning-intensive process, which can take years while the success is unknown, I argue that prior patent experience influences the researcher's subsequent patent behaviour. To conclude, this paper aims to understand what determines serial patentees and sheds light on what an organization has to do to in order to "breed" more of them. The overall research questions is: What determines a serial patentee? Precisely, the following hypothesis:
• H1: The patenting culture within the organization influences the patent behaviour of a
• H2: The experience a researcher made with a former patent application influences the
decision for the next patent.
o H1a: The more successful the former patent was, the more likely is a next patent.
o H1b: The more responsibility the researcher had for the last patent, the more likely
they are to patent again.
This research studies the case of the Fraunhofer society. Fraunhofer is predestined to study the patenting behaviour, since it applies for approximately 750 patents per year. I matched employee data of all employees in the Fraunhofer group “Light and surfaces” with inventor data from the Patstat database to identify non-inventors, one-time inventors and multiple inventors as well as the patent intensity. The matching criteria included: Patstat standardised name ID, name, distance matrix and assignee information. A discrete failure time model is applied to understand which independent variables influence the patent behaviour. The independent variables include (1) the researchers former patent experience - if any (international application, number of application fields, first one in the inventors list, number of patents) and (2) the researchers cultural (average number of patents within the research group, average patents of the research institute).
The preliminary descriptive results show that there is a high variance between the six Fraunhofer institutes in the group “Light and surfaces” and even within one institute, the number of patents varies a lot between different departments and units even though they are all in the same field. This can already be seen as a sign for the impact of the cultural context. On the individual level, it becomes clear, that it is much more likely to apply for a patent, if the researcher already had a patent, than applying a patent at all; i.e. it is more likely that a researcher with one patent has up to eight more patents than to have a patent at all. This indicates that patent application has a high entry barrier in terms of patenting knowledge. Additionally, the more successful the former patent was the more likely is a next patent. In line with former studies, the importance of publications for patenting behaviour as a knowledge stock is supported; meaning that research and technology transfer is not contradicting, but instead mutually beneficial.
By discussing recommendations and potential formats of support based on the results, the study speaks to TTOs and practitioners. The “knowledge entry barrier” for patents is very high; i.e. once a researcher made a step in the direction of patents they remain in a “Lock –In” effect. This sharpens the awareness of patenting as a learning intensive process. Hence, the study provides several starting-points and suggestions for new incentives to better support inventors and provide a direction for young researchers towards patents, like lowering the information barrier. Thus, TTOs should provide easy access the topic of patenting.
In addition, innovation politicians and external consultants can benefit from this study, as is helps to adjust formats and services to the identified needs and challenges of researchers. As the results are embedded in the triple helix discussion, researchers and practitioners should consider translating the findings to other commercialization channels as well as the transferability of the results to other contexts, like companies with research departments in the pharmaceutical industry.