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Leftover: international. If you are faced with a problem involving international companies, you’re likely to need to talk to people rather than just search printed/online sources. For example, customers and/or suppliers of the companies involved may be willing to describe what they’ve been told.

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leftover international
Leftover: international

If you are faced with a problem involving international companies, you’re likely to need to talk to people rather than just search printed/online sources.

For example, customers and/or suppliers of the companies involved may be willing to describe what they’ve been told.

Again, there is a dichotomy in competitive intelligence: sometimes you should search written sources, sometimes you should call people up.

There are also consultants.

international consultants
International consultants

If you feed “cheese marketing consultant” into Babelfish you can find that the Italian is consulente in materia di vendita del formaggio, and if you feed that into Google you can get a set of web pages I can’t understand but names such as Alberto Maselli, Giuseppe Capano, and Umberto Solimene appear to be willing to sell advice on cheese. Similarly “automobile headlights consulting” (turned into German) produced some companies appearing to be in that business.

Obviously, you should find somebody who speaks the right language and you are much better off with a personal recommendation than just believing ads on the Web.

innovative corporations
Innovative corporations

Some corporations are more likely to innovate than others. For example, 3M has a good reputation for this (think yellow post-its). RedHerring recently tried to list them.

Top 100 Innovative Companies

Companies that will shape the next year in technology. December 13, 2004 Print Issue

(Few of these are well-known companies). Some are Dassault, Crossbow, Ember, Exiqon.

innovative corporations not
Innovative corporations (not)

1998 (above) 2005 (right)

innovative corporations1
Innovative corporations

1998 (left); 2005 (above)


Three Months Ended

October 30,2004

October 25,2003


From their 10-Q, 3Q 2004:

R&D $805M, up from $755M in 2003.

General and admin and sales expenses $1035M


2003 R&D at $202M, up from $185M in 2002. General and administrative expenses plus selling is $3.8B


Is there really a better mousetrap?

Standard sources: Patents, Journals, Conferences

patents are complex
Patents are complex

Patents are a combination of a gamble that they will be worth something, and a nice addition to your resume. Most patents are never exploited.

In theory, a patent has to be an idea that is new, useful, not obvious, and “reduced to practice” (i.e. actually built).

All of these are stretched very far in current practice.

some strange patents
Some strange patents

5443036: “Method of exercising a cat” (using a laser pointer)

some strange patents1
Some strange patents

6004596: “Sealed crustless sandwich” (the peanut-butter & jelly patent)

some strange patents2
Some strange patents

6640379: attachable eyeglass wipers

some strange patents3
Some strange patents

5443037: “canine seat belt” (just so you don’t think cats have all the fun)

patents by class
Patents by class

144 Woodworking 

147 Coopering 

148 Metal treatment 

149 Explosive and thermic compositions or charges 

150 Purses, wallets, and protective covers 

152 Resilient tires and wheels 

156 Adhesive bonding and miscellaneous chemical manufacture

patents by company
Patents by company

Merck had 186 patents in 2004

Some titles:

416,797,492 Method for reducing the immunogenicity of antibody variable domains

426,797,476 Process for the scaleable purification of plasmid DNA

436,797,174 Connecting system for plastic columns

446,794,405 Alicyclic imidazoles as H3 agents

456,794,393 Tyrosine kinase inhibitors

patent searching
Patent searching

USPTO is free. Has some oddball features, like $ for truncation.

Can also search trademarks, e.g. in Jan. 2005 Merck applied for trademarks on

(Usually unproductive; all of these are described as treatments for the same enormous range of ailments)

about a patent
About a patent

United States Patent 6,619,299

Marcon , et al. September 16, 2003

Flavor enhanced whitening dental floss

The present invention relates to a flavor enhanced whitening dental floss that comprises a dental floss and various whitening formulations that taste remarkably good. Regular use of such a floss will therefore provide not only a significant improvement in the interproximal and subgingival whiteness of teeth but also provide all other benefits normally associated with flossing. As a result, consumers will now be able to achieve better overall results; inexpensively, safely, and in a much more pleasurable manner than is otherwise possible.

Inventors: Marcon; Robert Victor (3471 Sinnicks Avenue, Niagara Falls Ont., CA L2J 2G6); Nash; Lawrence Wayne (17 Beachview Drive, St. Catharines Ont., CA L2N 3W2) Filed: December 17, 2001

Note: no assignee. Thus these two guys work for themselves.

patents pending
Patents pending

The Patent Office will now tell you about patents “in process” after 18 months. This is a change from previous law:

Until 2000 patents were secret until issued; then they were valid for 17 years from date of issue.

Now they are published after 18 months and are valid for 20 years from date of filing. There are also some gimmicks to provide extensions.

The change was supposed to deal with “submarine” patents. Under the old law, you could invent something and market it in good faith, not knowing that somebody else had a patent in process. If their patent was granted, they could then sue you.

For example, Forgent Networks bought patent 4,698,672, says that it controls the JPEG image compression algorithm, and has obtained some $90M from various camera & computer companies. Essentially no one knew about this patent (which was issued after JPEG came into widespread use).

jerome lemelson 1923 1997
Jerome Lemelson (1923-1997)

He was the king of submarine patents. His patent applications hold the top thirteen places in the list of “longest time taken to process a patent”. Lemelson has more than 500 patents and made more than $500M from them.

In particular, Lemelson applied for patents in computer vision in the 1950s, which under the law he was allowed to repeatedly rewrite, and by the time they issued (the last in 1994) they described bar-code devices.

research summary sites
Research summary sites

For example, “extraordinarydairy.com” has a list of cheese research projects (most of which would turn you off eating the stuff, such as reducing the post-baking chewiness of lowfat mozzarella cheese on pizza or strategies to produce 640 lb cheddar blocks with uniform composition, both from Cornell).

Similarly “dairyfoods.com” has an article about research progress in cheesemaking.

Various other magazines, ranging from ScientificAmerican to Technology Review along with many trade magazines, will have articles boasting about recent progress in their area. There is even a magazine Holstein World Online, and it doesn’t seem to be a Garrison Keillor joke.

university departments
University departments

Sometimes universities boast about their corporate donors.

For example, the Brown computer science department thanks its “list of industrial partners” including: Microsoft, Sun, GTECH, Network Appliance, ITA Software, Edelman & Associates, IBM,Intel, nVidia, Siemens, and Pixar.

But these may or may not be up to date: the Purdue SERC center lists as sponsors: NSF, Bell Communications Research, Dynamix, Mentor Graphics, NORTEL, GTE Government Systems, Northrop-Grumman (Rolling Meadows), Northrop-Grumman (Melbourne), Army Research Lab Software Technology Branch. Of these Bell Communications Research has been Telcordia since 1997, and GTE became part of Verizon in 2000.

conferences journals
Conferences, journals

This is pretty much familiar science reference. Note however the ability to search for corporate authors or institutions.

For example, searching INSPEC for IBM papers in 2000:

Inspec uses “.in” for “institution” but other services may use other labels.

conferences journals1
Conferences, journals

So, for example, asking how many papers with “Unix” in the title or abstract were published by various companies yields:

ei engineering index
EI (Engineering Index)

General coverage of conferences, etc.

Somewhat less academically oriented.

However, it’s still generally true that academics are forced to publish while industrial researchers must struggle to publish.

Thus, statistics on publishing in open literature often reflect the policy of the organization rather than the amount or quality of the work it does.

More useful is judging trends in technology: which areas are gaining, which are (if only relatively) falling back.

  • Technology investigations resemble scientific search as usual, but
  • More interest in restricting searches by corporate affiliation
  • More interest in finding corporation spending on research
  • More interest in presenting the results simply
  • Usually, and unlike normal searching, you want to know who or what, and not how. That is, the question is “who is looking for migraine drugs?” or “what is Merck looking for?” and not “how can we cure migraines?”