New research project at MIPLM about smart home appliances and the changing risk exposure due to digital business models: Analysis of the changing patent infringement risk situation in a digital transformation scenario. Currently, the fourth industrial revolution happens and removes the fences between the digital and physical world, this digital transformation is also known as the digitalization. A key enabler for digitalization is the internet of things (IoT) next to cloud computing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and others. IoT solutions enables companies, to provide additional and new customer benefits, user experiences or new differentiation criteria to the customer, adapted to customer demands.

Another visible trend is the rising numbers of patent applications and existing patents. Especially patents of third parties cause a certain risk of patent infringements for companies providing technical products. Making, using, offering for sale, selling, or importing of patented technical products can lead to a patent infringement. The problem with committing a patent infringement is next to others, that the patent owner has rights or claims against a patent infringer that lead to a certain dependency on a patent owner. In the worst case a patent owner can forbid the use of the patented technology.

Based on these two trends the motivation for this work arose to analyze the changing of the patent infringement risk situation based on the digital transformation. The analysis of Vorwerk’s Thermomix, an exemplary Internet of Things solution, shows the different patent infringement risk situation before and after the digital transformation. An analysis of the Vorwerk patent portfolio shows that Vorwerk uses additional and different technology in their Internet of Things solution since the digital transformation, compared to their physical product before the digital transformation, to provide the additional customer benefits. The technology used in an Internet of Things concept is typically described in a layer model with a physical layer, a perception layer, a transmission layer, a computation layer, and an application layer. Especially the used technology in the layers next to the physical layer lead to a significant increased technological area where potential infringement relevant patents can be located. As these additional layers do not exist in the physical product before the digital transformation, one result of the analysis is a significantly increased technological area that can include potentially infringement relevant patents, caused by the digital transformation. The second result of the analysis of the additional potentially relevant technological fields show that the patent owner structure is different there. In the physical layer and the main technological IPC class of Vorwerk’s patent portfolio are companies from the domestic appliance and kitchen machine industry listed as main patent assignees. In the further layers like perception, transmission computation and application, big and known technology companies outside the domestic appliance and the kitchen machine market are listed as main assignees. Both results lead to the conclusion that the patent infringement risk situation is significantly different after the digital transformation of a product compared to the situation before. This could lead to increased effort in patent infringement risk management and different considerations regarding strategic positioning in the industry compared to the situation before the digital transformation.

This research project was conducted by MIPLM graduate Leonhard Brader and supervised by Prof. Dr. Alexander Wurzer and Dr. Thibaud Lelong both CEIPI.

Leonhard Brader works as IPR portfolio manager at Rohde & Schwarz GmbH & Co. KG in Munich. After completing his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical and computer engineering, he worked as engineer for electronic development at TELAIR International and as project engineer in the patent department at Wittur Holding GmbH. He holds a distance learning degree as a Patent Engineer in intellectual property law from the distance University Hagen.

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