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How many patents does it take to build an iPhone?
The role of the patent portfolio in the age of complex product development.

By Lindsey Gilroy and Tammy D'Amato of Patent Board™

Media File by Jon Davis The products around us are getting smarter every day. Gone are the days when an individual product served a single function and could be protected with a single patent. Want a cell phone that is also a video camera, a compass, a flashlight and a music store? Don't forget a GPS device and a web browser and you've got the iPhone. As products grow more complex, they integrate increasingly diverse components. Those components themselves evolved from the development of multiple and varying technologies. Rooftop solar panels may be one component on the total product that is the Prius hybrid car, but the technologies behind photovoltaic cells range from the refinement of industrial materials to substrate chemicals, from semiconductor manufacturing to information technology and electronic components. Each technology area is built up by a myriad of patented innovations. Even within a single company, there are many patents protecting each innovation.

Chart 1: E-INK TECHNOLOGY CLUSTERS Most products are protected by a multitude of patents that can be grouped into portfolios at the product, component or technology level. All too often Intellectual Property managers focus on the value of a single breakthrough patent, but this outlook is as outdated as the idea that a phone is...

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