The fourth industrial revolution is changing the way how people live, work and consume products and services. It makes way to more digital, cooperative and relationship based business models, which are substituting slowly the established transaction based business models of the past and present. This change in business models is enabled by a variety of new digital enabling technologies, including AI, robotics, augmented reality and the metaverse, 3D printing and many more. Many of those technologies are enabling the use of big data to provide more individual solutions to customers or are linking the digital and real world to improve industrial processes, e.g. in the industrial metaverse. This cornucopia of new technological and business opportunities is also reflected in the growth of digital patent application numbers, which can be seen in the patent databases. An overview of the high growth is given in the EPO study “Patents and the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Figure 1: Growth of international patent families in all technologies vs 4IR technologies. Source: Patents and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

This steep increase in patent applications for digital technologies also creates new digital patent infringement risks, which were analysed in the MIPLM master thesis “Analysis of the changing patent infringement risk situation in a digital transformation scenario” by Leonhard Brader. Those new risks have two different sources of origins. One new source of risk comes from new digital technology and service layers, which are introduced in digital products. While classical products only have physical components, digital products also have one or more of the following digital components: Sensors and actuators, connectivity, analysis and digital services. For each of those new digital layers competitors may create and patent solutions, which are not covered by the patent portfolios designed for the physical product alone. The second source of risk comes from new entries from other markets. Smart products or digital services for smart products can be developed by many more companies than the classic competitors, which are known to most manufacturing companies. Often manufacturing companies are now competing with either small software solution providers or big tech companies and those companies protect their digital services with patents. An example for this is the case between Masimo and Apple about pulse oximetry technology for smart watches.

Figure 2: Layer model of digital products and services. Source: Fleisch et al. (2015), Geschäftsmodelle im Internet der Dinge; ZFBF, December 2015, p. 444-464

With the increasing complexity of patent infringement risks in the fourth industrial revolution, which are coming form the increasing numbers of patent applications and the increasing number of technology fields and competitors, which need to be monitored, also the importance of patent information changes. To navigate the new digital infringement risks successfully larger numbers of files need to be monitored and searched in a different way compared to physical products. Nevertheless, the digital transformation also did not stop before the world of patent information and new digital tools enable users to keep an overview of the relevant patent landscapes and assess their IP risks.