Patent thickets, or complex collections of interrelated and often overlapping intellectual property rights, have long been perceived as a primary obstacle to the efficient commercialization of innovation. Following an in-depth analysis conducted by the regulatory body's Economic and Scientific Advisory Board (ESAB), European Patent Office (EPO) officials recently suggested that the inhibitive effects of patent thickets are likely overstated and capable of being resolved by several indirect measures.
The fear surrounding patent thickets has been particularly acute among small, early-stage businesses, according to IAM Magazine. When these firms venture into fields characterized by complex patent climates, they do so with the knowledge that they are likely raising their litigation risk and facing higher-than-average patent licensing costs. As a result, commercialization becomes a slower, more deliberate process.
These correlations did not constitute causation, however, in the eyes of ESAB researchers.
"Thickets mostly occur in technological areas with significant market potential. Many patents are filed on the basis of substantial R&D investment, and this leads to areas with a high density of patents and patent applications," the report stated. "But these patent fields must be navigated whatever their density. Problems are caused by low-quality patents, and the slowness and cost of the system."
EPO experts identified improved collaboration between international patent authorities, as well as increased transparency surrounding patent ownership rights, as key action points for helping innovators avoid the trappings of bureaucracy and get their products and services to market faster.