A company's approach to intellectual property is a clear reflection of its focus on research and innovation. A patent by its nature is granted only for some technical concept that is both new and inventive.
If this technical concept is already in the public domain, no patent will be granted. Hence, a sizeable patent portfolio is clear evidence of a strong focus on research and innovation.
Patents typically originate in one of two ways: a normal extension of work or a radically new product. In the first instance, you have an existing product that may not contain patented technology but you figure out a new and novel product extension.
This patent is often used for "defensive purposes" which means that nobody can leverage the new and novel technical element that you added to the product.
An example of this type of invention is the "Surf Locking" product function. Some customers of the Irdeto conditional access system discovered that some subscribers used to share a single smart card between multiple set top boxes. Irdeto has obtained a patent for a feature in its Conditional Access System that counters this practice.
The other and more compelling type of patent is based on doing something that has never been done before. These patents are the result of extensive time and research to identify a whole new class of products or solutions. Hence, these patents are typically the result of a sizable investment in research. As such new ideas and inventions inherently have a great deal of technical and market uncertainty, it is critical that other companies cannot use the results of the creative technical research and development work.
Researchers come up with really innovative things but if they don't solve a customer's business challenge or there is no commercial value for the invention then it simply remains a very good idea. When such innovative technologies are submitted as a patent, the patent office will only evaluate the patent applications to determine if they are new and inventive. This is an effective external vetting mechanism to verify the innovation capabilities of a company. However, as many ideas get patented but are never commercially deployed (made into products that people want and buy) patents by itself are not a sufficient measure of the innovative strength of a technology company.
At Irdeto we add an additional vetting process before we pursue a patent. We ask "Does it solve a customer's business challenges today or a business challenge in the foreseeable future? By doing this, we not only know that it is new and inventive but, that it also has commercial value. We also measure our patent grant verses patent submission ratio (the number of patents submitted vs. the number granted). We feel these two additional layers have contributed to Irdeto's solid track record of industry firsts including: the first commercial use of smart cards, the first IPTV deployment in North America and the world's first mobile pay TV CA deployed in South Korea to name a few.
Watermarking Case Study:
A good idea whose time has not arrived: Irdeto's watermarking solution. Eleven years ago, an Irdeto engineer came up with a new and innovative way of doing something but could not figure out how to turn this great idea into a product that had commercially value. Then some years later, two fairly unrelated events happened providing the missing piece to the watermarking puzzle. At this very exciting moment, the idea was conceived and applied resulting in the perfect blend of research, innovation, engineering and marketing.
The outcome: Irdeto awarded multiple patents for the Industry's First Interoperable Watermarking technology for set-top-boxes.