Philips tops the EPO list for patent filing for second consecutive year

20 March 2017

Philips has just been named the world’s largest patent applicant at the European Patent Office (EPO) for the second year running. The company is also in the EPO’s top 10 list for patents granted and ranks first in three leading technology fields: ‘Medical Technology’, ‘Electrical machinery, apparatus, energy’ and ‘measurement’.

Here, 4iP Council speaks to Brian Hinman, Chief IP Officer and Senior Vice President at Philips and former Vice President of IP and Licensing at InterDigital, Verizon and IBM as well as former CEO of Allied Security Trust. At Philips, Brian leads a worldwide team of over 300 professionals, managing an IP Portfolio consisting of 79,000 patents, 49,000 trademarks, 86,000 design rights and 4,400 domain names.

Brian Hinman Chief Intellectual Property Officer

What does being the EPO’s largest patent applicant mean for Philips?

Quality over quantity is always our focus. This award substantiates the fact that Philips is a world innovation leader and enables me to effectively execute a solid patent filing strategy across the entire company. Our leadership across a number of key technology areas is especially important as it gives Philips the ability to execute a diverse product and services roadmap through the protection that our patents provide.

How does Philips ensure it is in pole position to capture the latest market innovations?

It all starts with strategic planning. Our IP strategy is married with the overall corporate strategy for Philips and the IP strategy is embedded into the strategic plan on record (SPOR) for each Philips business group. By looking into a 5-10 year technology horizon, my team executes a solid IP strategy which enables Philips to capture innovations that result in products or services for future revenue growth. Indeed, there is a strong culture of innovation in Philips, with a long, deep, proud history of capturing and exploiting these innovations in the market.

How does your team tap into, capture, assess ideas? Where does invention come from and how is it channelled within the company?

My team is embedded into the business. I have office locations worldwide, wherever Philips has a significant business or market presence, coupled with a Philips R&D location. We support those businesses in everything that they do and provide IP counselling support, IP portfolio management and IP value creation, standardisation leadership and IP value capturing execution.

Has the way in which technology innovation at Philips comes about evolved in recent years? Do you see more ‘buying in’ of innovation as opposed to ‘home grown’?

I have always preached to my teams, and throughout Philips, that we need to determine the appropriate balance of organic and inorganic growth to our IP portfolio. It is a ‘make vs. buy’ decision that is so important, and could make the difference when trying to rapidly gain entrance into specific market channels. We have a very open innovation perspective at Philips where we partner with others as necessary to conduct technology transfer, joint development agreements, venturing, partnerships and the like. We make venture investments in university spinouts and small start-ups that have generated interesting IP. We often take a venture stake, partner or engage in joint activity.

The determination of organic and inorganic growth is made with each business group, as the needs per business are often very different.

In terms of trends going forward, open innovation is especially important in the medical field and in the world of digital. There is an increasing need for collaboration with those who are experts in specific technology domains, and through these partnerships, Philips gains a stronger foothold in the industry.

Is the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) impacting innovation within Philips and is it changing your IP strategy?

IoT is an important technology space that impacts us in many ways as we embrace the world of digital innovation. I have increased the capabilities of my team by adding people with specific experience in IoT and digital innovation and we are educating each business group on the IP implications of this so that we as a company are prepared to capture IoT innovations and seize the relevant opportunities. In addition, we are leading the way in defining the standards interoperability requirements for IoT and play a leading role in standards organisations worldwide as they define the playing field in these spaces.

Across the different sectors in which Philips innovates, is your experience of invention and patenting different? And geographically, how is Philips' IP strategy evolving?

Once again, the IP strategy will differ by business group since the needs are different and the IP value capturing mechanism is also different (e.g. cross licensing, exclusivity, licensing, etc.). In addition, the IP gaps that we identify per business group through conducting a SWOT analysis in the strategic planning process create opportunities for us to fill these gaps proactively. Geographically, we are focused on the optimum business / market combinations which focuses growth of our IP portfolio to capture specific innovations relevant to each of these distinct markets. For example, in China the air purification systems that Philips sells address a major concern regarding air pollution. This is a good example of developing and exploiting innovations in a technology area that is important for a specific geographic market.

You mention China, have you seen an evolution there in terms of patenting and innovation?

China is one of the largest markets for Philips. It is also a very dynamic market with a lot of fast-growing, high-tech companies. But the patent system is in flux and IP enforcement is still a major issue. Philips has a key research lab in Shanghai, and I have a large IP team also located there. This allows Philips to create a local-for-local presence in a key market and allows us to create and protect differentiating innovations that are critical to address this challenging market.

Does the patent system hinder or help invention in your view? What is your message to those who support dismantling the patent system? System improvements?

The patent system enables innovation to happen through efficient and timely filing of patent applications in relevant jurisdictions. The patent system is indeed important, since there has to be an effective mechanism to capture the innovations and issue those deemed to be of sufficient quality. There also has to be a way for the individual inventor to seek protection for his/her innovations.

In Europe, I am confident that the new Unitary Patent System will enable a cost-efficient, quality-focused mechanism to file patents in multiple jurisdictions using one application. This is important for companies, but also for individual inventors.

The EPO has always been focused on quality. The issue of quality is one that all patent offices need to continue to stress and through continued collaboration amongst these patent offices, they are able to share best practices and improve the patent system overall worldwide.

Do you feel that European policy makers understand how challenging invention is? If not, what aspects of technology invention are not well understood (by policy-makers)?

Yes, the EPO does a good job educating key European policy makers and in promoting innovation throughout Europe.

What advice would you offer policy-makers seeking to encourage innovation today?

Always focus on quality. One of the key issues with patent offices is the backlog of patent applications and being able to deal with this while also focusing on quality. This needs constant focus.

What advice would you offer a European inventor today?

European inventors should never feel like their creativity is being stifled, and that they should forever pursue avenues to capture their innovations through patent filings. In Europe, the Unitary Patent System is ideal for them to cost effectively file their patent applications across multiple jurisdictions.

Author: Emma Bluck

The views expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee and may not reflect the views of 4iP Council or its members. The purpose of this feature area is to reflect thinking on the topic of intellectual property and enable open discussion.