The Age of Digital Transformation
Most digital marketers realize we are in an age of digital transformation. As Schmidt & Cohen said in their book, The New Digital Age, “What you can watch on your various displays . . . will be determined by you, not by network-television schedules. At your fingertips will be an entire world’s worth of digital content, constantly updated, ranked and categorized to help you find the music, movies, shows, books, magazines, blogs and art you like.” And not only are consumers finding themselves in charge, the accelerated adoption of new technologies means that as we live our life in the digital world, we more rapidly accept and adopt to new ways of doing things. Consider a few transformations in the past of how we communicate and find entertainment.
In 1868, the Sholes, Glidden & Soule typewriter was patented. Only 5,000 were sold. In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell filed a patent on the telephone and 50 years later there were 3 million telephones. Cable television was introduced in 1948, but it took 15 years for cable to reach one million people. In 1997, the DVD reached one million in sales its first 18 months. The first Macintosh was released in 1984 and sold two million in its first year whereas the first iMac was introduced in 1998 and sold 800,000 in the first 139 days. By 2012, it sold 3.8 million units. The iPod was introduced in 2001 and within 2 years sold 1 million and the iPad sold 300,000 the first day and has since sold 100 million. It’s unquestionable the speed and adoption of new ways to communicate and access entertainment is accelerating.
In this rapidly changing environment, how can digital marketers stay one step ahead? A new trend is emerging to predict shifts in consumer behavior – digital patent analytics. The patents filed on all of the technology I just mentioned, which transformed the way people listen to music and connect with one another, predicted those future trends. Patents can also predict cultural trends. Eddie Van Halen has a patent on the unique way he plays his guitar, Michael Jackson has a patent on the moonwalk and Batman has a patent on the uniqueness of the mask. Tracking patents and understanding who is filing for what can provide important indicators to you strategically and help you understand what direct and indirect competitors’ value.
In the United States, we now function under a first to file system, which means if companies want to protect new innovation that is patentable, they have to be the first to file rather than the first to invent the technology. This gives rise to filing patents before going to market. This intellectual property intelligence can be an important indicator of what lies ahead. While big technology won’t surprise you: Google has 3,551 patents and counting, Microsoft owns 24, 565 and control over 50,000+, Apple has 7283, Facebook has 161, and Yahoo! has 1476, what might surprise you is that NBC Universal, Disney, and even the NY Times have filed for patents in the digital space. Do you know what your digital competitors and vendors have in their portfolio? In a rapid age of digital transformation, tracking patents might give you a competitive edge in intellectual property intelligence.