At the beginning of the new millennium, the next technological quantum leap began to emerge, which is now known as the fourth industrial revolution – or Industry 4.0 for short. New technologies permit the development of new business models. In general, a business model describes a company’s business processes in order to achieve a defined business objective within the context of its social environment. The term sums up visions, ideas, descriptive features, and design models.

Enabled by today’s advanced technologies, increasing digitization is revolutionizing the way in which businesses operate. Especially so-called enabling technologies – e.g. cloud computing, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data analytics – have dramatically accelerated the pace at which today’s businesses are evolving. The digital transformation of traditional businesses leads to more volatile, uncertain, and complex business scenarios, but may also enable unique business opportunities. In this sense, the consequences of the digital transformation of businesses may be disruptive to entire industries and business segments.

In the context of digitization, intellectual property (IP) is becoming an increasingly important element in a company’s strategy in order to remain competitive by establishing defensible positions. This importance necessitates a systematic and value-driven management of IP. In the light of the shift from a production-oriented towards a software-driven economy, for instance, finding valuable ideas – i.e. creating an actual competitive advantage which is worth patenting – has become a challenging task. The formation of digitized ecosystems allows new market entrants to easily compete with established companies. Indeed, digital value propositions are almost unlimited and easy to imitate, thus making it necessary to look at the digital business model as a whole: distribution and manufacturing channels, customer relationships, etc. are becoming increasingly diffuse, but also more critical to success.

An understanding of how aspects of such digital business models can be protected by intellectual property rights is desirable. Despite numerous studies on both business models and IP management, however, there is still a lack of detailed understanding of patents and their economic role within digital business models.

The present research project proposes first concepts related to the protection of digital business models by so-called digital patents. Based on an understanding of the value constitution of IP, the concept of digital patents is substantiated by economic models and empirical results, according to which digital business models can be decomposed into structural elements which are used in order to generate new business models in a recurrent and recombinant way. According to the concepts proposed, digital business models can be decomposed into four recurring logics which are used in combination with eight major technical concepts (or, in innovators’ jargon: invention principles). These technical concepts are considered to also be recurrent in digital business models, thus permitting a focus of innovation expenditures on recurring patterns deemed relevant in empirical observations. The understanding of digital patents within the framework of digital business models presented here may lead to a more targeted use of patents in order to protect digital business models, and allow for a systematic enhancement of the value of patents. Breaking down the structure of digital business models into recurring structural elements may help to increase the effectiveness of IP in protecting digital business models. Accordingly, the value of patents may be purposefully increased in the context of the underlying digital business model as a result of a better understanding of the interaction between patent blocking and the integration of these blocking effects in the digital business model.

Consequently, this permits the introduction of patent types which allow us to empirically categorize and distinguish recurrent problem-solution pairs in the patent literature. These patent types can be classified according to the structural elements of digital business models to which they relate and for which they create a blocking effect. According to a first rough draft, three major categories of digital patents can be distinguished.

This research project is conducted by MIPLM graduate Dr. Frederik Golks and supervised by Prof. Dr. Alexander Wurzer and Prof. Dr. Céline Meyrueis, both CEIPI.

Dr. Golks studied Physics and achieved his PhD in Interface Physics and Electrochemistry. He works as Senior Intellectual Property Counsel for Corporate Intellectual Property at Robert Bosch GmbH in Stuttgart, Germany, advising Bosch on operational and strategic issues related to intellectual property in accordance with the company’s intellectual property policy.





Here is a description of the research project: Protection of digital business models by digital patents.