The patent has long stood for a “temporary monopoly” that protects intellectual property. For many businesses, patents provide a foundation for business growth. Enter legendary patent owner and entrepreneur Artur Fischer: His business’s growth and success is, even today, inextricably linked to intelligent patent management and a belief that patents are equity in their own right. When the success of a patent is directly reflected in company success, it’s easy to work out its value. On many occasions, however – e.g. a company sale, an investment, licensing, or patent sales – a patent does need evaluating. Bankruptcy also highlights just how important patent ownership is.
Patent evaluation encompasses many factors that are often difficult to assess. Sometimes they are even unknown. Who are the prospective licensees? What’s happening in the market? Are there any new substitution technologies? Questions which often have no easy answers. That’s why it is useful to be able to draw on evaluation standards that are simple, easy to understand and cost-effective – a luxury no-one had in the past. In fact, evaluations were often like gazing into a crystal ball. This is where the new SIGNO standard comes in. Designed by experts, the standard puts patent evaluation on a level playing field.
Patents are treasure troves on the horizon; they need to be leveraged and then transformed into products that meet market demand. Companies that innovate and outpace the competition are more likely to succeed in the global marketplace. Added value in the form of technology plays an important role, especially in the German economy. For research findings, new developments and inventions to be made commercially viable – more quickly and effectively – technology transfer between businesses, research, and trade and industry needs to be intensified.
One major reason why it is difficult transferring and exploiting intangible business equity is that it is hard to assess whether a new technology will be commercially viable. Very often, the technology remains in development until it is ready to market. In the early stages, it’s hard to predict the opportunities and risks presented by commercialization, or whether it is even technically feasible.
One way to clear this hurdle is to involve experts from a variety of disciplines in the evaluation process. After all, a sound assessment needs to draw on legal, scientific, technical and economic expertise. In practice, this has often translated into an expensive price tag, one that neither SMEs have the budget for nor matches the nature of the evaluation.
The current system – parallel approaches to evaluating intangible business equity in general, but also patents in particular – has consequences. It is not possible to compare results, and people don’t trust the way the value was estimated, or the process, or the institutions that submitted the estimate. Ultimately, the evaluation itself is robbed of impact.
Enter the new SIGNO standard. This tool was designed to reinforce and simplify technology transfer between universities and companies, independent inventors and businesses, and businesses themselves. The SIGNO standard’s main objectives, then, are to lend transparency and help make the evaluation process more uniform across the whole of Germany in a way that engenders trust.
The creators of the SIGNO standard realized it was essential for the tool to work within SME budgets and existing resources. The standard is a bit like a checklist and takes all key criteria into account. It also represents good value for money. It is versatile enough to allow for more detail and the scope of analysis and documentation can be matched to needs and budgets, and if necessary expanded.
At an event moderated by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, experienced specialists from the SIGNO network gath ered to discuss how to advance the standard and road-test it. The group included experts from a variety of organizations with a decades- long track record in patent and innovation management. They were thus highly proficient in evaluating technologies and trademark rights. They included the Steinbeis Transfer Center Infothek, the north German inventor forum EZN, IMG Innovations- Management, InTraCoM and the Fraunhofer Society.
The SIGNO expert report on a patent’s value is divided into five key, standardized sections: rights, technology, company, market, potential value. The SIGNO evaluation method involves defining and substantiating tangible “usage scenarios” (covering all key influences), opportunities and risks. Although it focuses on content, the standard also places special emphasis on the auditing method used and the final result. Processes, how information is gathered (and in what form), and even client relationships are logged. The deciding factor throughout: the expert’s qualifications and experience. The SIGNO expert report on a patent’s value is available through the Steinbeis Transfer Center Infothek.