Proactive Intellectual Property Activities
Toshihiko Kobayashi, General Administrative Manager, Intellectual Property Division
Proactively Addressing Underlying IP Issues
Epson aspires to be an indispensable company, as declared in Epson's Management Philosophy. To become an indispensable company, Epson must proactively provide value through innovation and, as a result, earn recognition for products and services that make the world a better place. In other words, our goal is to provide value that matches society's expectations by coming up with innovative solutions to the world's challenges.
Epson considers its proprietary advanced core technologies to be among its most important assets because they are what power innovation and sustain our growth as an indispensable company.
Protecting these core technologies is thus critically important in terms of business strategy and that is why our intellectual property activities are an integral part of business.
Epson emphasizes proactive intellectual property activities. Rather than reactively use our intellectual property rights to counter against third parties, we proactively position ourselves to respond to potential future intellectual property issues by obtaining and actively using intellectual property rights in anticipation of future business.
Supporting and Facilitating Innovation
Epson's intellectual property strategy is to unify management, business, and IP into a single entity. To give this strategy concrete shape, the president of Seiko Epson and the general administrative manager of the Intellectual Property Division regularly meet with each of the operations division chief operating officers and division general administrative managers for trilateral talks.
At these talks, the parties debate strategies for using IP and for steering business in the right direction based on the IP landscape, in which Epson's operating environment is investigated and analyzed from multiple angles using business and intellectual property information.
The extremely close relationship between management and IP is one of the defining features of Epson's IP activities, and innovation at Epson is facilitated and accelerated through trilateral talks. In other words, we pursue our day-to-day IP activities on the following fundamental strategies. We formulate IP acquisition strategies that are linked to our R&D strategies in order to protect our critical core technologies. We use these core technologies to drive innovation and solve the world's challenges. In turn, we formulate IP usage strategies that are linked to business strategies that are designed to make Epson an indispensable company.
For example, piezo printheads are a core device in the printing sector. We own more patents related to these printheads than anyone else in the industry, and this IP has given us a formidable competitive advantage. In addition, we are facilitating open innovation by actively selling printheads to other manufacturers for a diverse range of needs.
Our IP activities are thus designed to protect our existing business, drive innovations that will fuel future growth and, at the same time, accelerate open innovation based on core technologies, and expand the applications for these core technologies.
Number of Piezo Printhead-Related Patents Owned
* As of March 10, 2020, per Epson research
* The number of Piezo printhead-related patents registered in Japan, the U.S., China, and Europe since April 1, 2000
Combining IP and Technology Brand Strategy
Epson seeks to build a portfolio that affords solid protection with a combination of IP that includes patent rights, design rights, and trademark rights (copyrights) that cover our core technology, designs, and trademarks. We thus employ our intellectual property rights for protection against free riders on our IP, maintain and build the competitive advantage of our own brands, and enable sustained stable business operation.
Specifically, we are building a patent portfolio of competitive core technologies in anticipation of future use. We are also protecting names linked to core technologies by acquiring trademarks in order to brand core technologies and deploy a technology brand strategy that can easily be articulated in messaging. In addition, we are building a design portfolio to protect Epson's original designs from look-alike products.
Strategy for Using Patent Rights Along a "C-Curve"
At Epson, we define outstanding patents that elevate our competitive advantage and contribute substantially higher profit as "brilliant patents" (BP). The ideal strategy for using BP is depicted in a four-quadrant chart that shows how Epson utilizes its patents on one axis and how our competitors exercise their patents on the other axis. The location of rights on the chart moves from the top-right quadrant to the quadrant on the top left, then the bottom left and, finally, the bottom right. We call this a "C-Curve."
- Non-licensed quadrant
We obtain and protect patents on core technologies that are a source of competitiveness not granting licenses to others.
- Cross-licensing quadrant
Situations can arise in which we have no choice but to use patents owned by competitors, so we try to ensure business flexibility by entering into cross-licensing agreements with competitors who want to use our patents.
- Selling and licensing quadrant
We obtain a return on investment (revenue) by either selling or licensing to others patents that have contributed to the growth of business through cross-licensing agreements.
- Abandonment and expiration quadrant
Maintaining patent rights is costly, so we actively abandon patents that are unlikely to be utilized.
A Team of IP Professionals
Epson's IP staff is made up of solid professionals who carry out their work guided by business strategy in order to generate and use intellectual property rights that protect our core technologies. Our team strives to protect our core technologies by enforcing our intellectual property rights to combat infringing products in more than 20 countries.
To proactively manage our intellectual property, our IP staff needs to have an excellent understanding of markets and business in addition to technical expertise. They must be able to forecast future business, shape a portfolio of intellectual property rights that can contribute to business, and propose how to use those IP rights. For this reason, Epson puts considerable effort into training its IP staff and has in place a multi-year education program.
Moving forward, our IP team will act to bolster the present while also aligning their activities with Epson's business strategy, accelerating innovation, creating a future and, as a result, enabling Epson to contribute to society as an indispensable company.