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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Corporate Spy Shop

Leaning what your competition is up to has a value to your business.  OK, there is no real legal spy shop for corporate intelligence but there are things you can do. Your business plan should have a competition section where you provide some analysis of products and companies that may present a problem for your business.  You can gain info in a variety of ways even though it may not be as complete as you like.

The internet presents a great way to find some of those competitors.  You will likely get data indicating a little of what they are up to.  Timelines and capital on hand may even be part of the data you capture.  Public companies will have more info available than private, but data is available on most of the companies that have left their garage and seeking money.

Many ways legal ways exist to obtain info on competition. You need this info to show any investor you are in command of the space and your products can be competitive.   A few ideas on ways to identify and obtain information are below:

Literature search:  Companies may have obtained the idea for the technology from someone that was in a university.  The technology may even be via a license.  Literature searches on the founding scientist will provide intelligence about the research areas and possibly info on the technology.  Institutions often have a technology section that provides technology descriptions for their scientists or licensing candidates.

Intellectual Property Search: The US Patent Office has a searchable database and there is one for Europe as well.   Other searchable sites exist and your patent counsel can perform searches as well, but the attorney will charge you fees.  Searching for inventors, assignees, and other parameters may help identify patents that are part of the competitors stable.

Internet:  Searching the internet for specific products areas and companies in the space may bring a wide range of prospects for your review. Many will show their pipeline and estimates a date for product launch.  They often review their technology and team.  Reviewing the sites and possible news for the competition will provide further insight.  If the company is public, the SEC has a searchable database where these companies must file all documents for shareholders.  The annual and quarterly reports are a gold mine of info. In addition, private companies sometimes have an analyst or blogger following them.  These entities will put out reports that may be useful.  Many times documents will provide confirming info on market sizes and strategies for marketing the products.

Investors & Potential Partners:  If you are on the road raising capital, investors or potential partners may have reviewed companies that compete in your space.  Sometimes they will bring up the “I got you,” because you were not aware of company X. They may be willing to discuss “public info” about the competition.  The investor or partner is usually trying to rank your technology relative to the competition and obtain knowledge of your skills.  Regardless of their intent, the information may prove to be useful info.

Regulatory and Legal sites:  The Freedom of Information act makes data from government-sponsored projects available.  You may be able to obtain some info if government money used in the conduct of research for the program. The research may have taken place in a university or in the company.  For FDA relevant products, clinical trials are reported in their website.  One can also request a Summary Basis of Approval for approved products.  This document is extensive and describes much of what lead to the approval.