Guest Post: Is GE’s Wind Patent Portfolio Sustainable Without Future Licensing?

November 14th, 2011 by Philip Totaro* Leave a reply »

Part I:  Patent Portfolio Analysis of an Industry Leader

 

Wind Industry Leader

General Electric Company (GE) has vastly outpaced all of their competitors in intellectual property (IP) protection in many industries, but particularly wind turbines.  The chart below reflects data from our efforts in analyzing the landscape of issued patents and pending applications from the horizontal axis, utility-scale wind sector and indicates just how far ahead they are. 

 

 

The scope of their portfolio can certainly be intimidating to those who have not taken the time to analyze it in depth.

It is interesting to note that while they are better than the industry averages, GE’s portfolio is not vastly superior to most of their competition on a percentage basis as it relates to the number of high risk patents and apps (2% for GE vs. 1% for the Industry) and medium/high risk patents and apps (15% for GE vs. 10% for the Industry) represented on the chart above in red and orange respectively. 

However, the scale that their portfolio has achieved affords them the luxury of having greater numbers of patents in key areas of technology.  While they have over 20% of the patents and applications in the sector, the important trend is how much of the high and medium/high relevance patents and applications they hold.

GE has also been one of the top utilizers of the “Green Patent Fast Track” in the USPTO, and the 500th patent granted under the program was a GE patent relating to blade winglet technology to enhance performance.

GE’s Component Focus Mirrors Industry Trends

Deeper analysis of their portfolio indicates the areas of focus for the components and technologies in their portfolio. 

Their component focus has been in those same areas which the industry has rallied around.  Blade aero performance and structure, controls for performance optimization and load mitigation as well as electrical system reliability enhancement are all trends which are seen throughout every wind turbine OEM.

 

A look at their technology focus indicates they are mostly in line with industry trends on this as well.

 

Issued Patents v. Pending Applications Reveals Most Recent Innovations

A comparison of the issued patents in their portfolio vs. the pending applications reveals some interesting trends as well. 

Here we offer a comparison of the issued patents and the pending applications broken down by component keyword.  The differences between the two charts indicate areas where innovation has occurred in the past vs. more recently. 

From this it is clear that while blades are the highest component on the cumulative chart, that is largely due to influx of innovation on manufacturing process, the swept blades, circulation control, as well as the serrated trailing edge being utilized on the new 1.6-100m platform.  Additionally, blade manufacturing processes, tools, as well as transportation fixtures and techniques. 

Power factor control / VAR support and more recently sensor system accuracy have become important areas.  Tower reliability improvements, braced designs and self erection capabilities are also trending.

GE Issued Patents – Breakdown by Component

 

GE Pending Applications – Breakdown by Component

 

We also offer a comparison of the issued patents and the pending applications broken down by technology keyword.  Performance optimization has dominated their product strategy in the past few years, and their patent portfolio reflects that trend as well.  Other areas include:

  • Component reliability enhancements continue as well as condition monitoring systems and integration of feedback to control turbine output
  • Blade aero performance enhancements as well as controls-based energy output optimization
  • Component transportation fixtures as well as segmented components which can be transported and assembled on-site
  • Blade manufacturing and structure
  • On-site component repair techniques
  • Component “cost-out” activities to try and improve marginal cost of each turbine in this present era of depressed market prices

 

GE Issued Patents – Breakdown by Technology

 

GE Pending Applications – Breakdown by Technology 

 

Patent Strategies Bracket the Competition

GE is also famous for identifying key technologies which are required within the industry at a future point in time, such as power factor control, VAR support or more recently curtailment, and then develop a multi-patent “fence” around those technologies. 

They also look to bracket around their competition with patents.  This is accomplished by identifying the High or Medium/High risk patents or applications of their competitors and analyzing the weaknesses of those claims to determine areas of potential IP capture, coupled with assessment of competitive intelligence to determine where their competition is going technologically. 

In developing the breadth of this portfolio they have followed some basic tenets of IP strategy in seeking blanket protection in most areas of technology and components in the industry space. 

This is the result of their focused brainstorming sessions and engagement of a broad swath of engineering as well as internal and external Legal/IP team members to identify patentable inventions and complete invention disclosures and applications. 

These protocols, established in the mid-2000s have served them well in the last few years where the number of filings has doubled compared to previous years. 

Part II of this article will look at the costs associated with pursuing and sustaining this portfolio.

 

Philip Totaro is the Principal at Totaro & Associates, a consulting firm focused on innovation strategy, competitive intelligence, product development and patent search. 

To get a deeper look into the patent landscape of the horizontal axis, utility-scale wind industry please visit www.totaro-associates.com and ask about Wind Patent Watch™, a subscription service providing a weekly digest and analysis of the published patents and applications from General Electric and the rest of the industry.

Advertisement

Comments are closed.