Case Study: How Patents Unmasked Alibaba’s Secret Partner?

How would you know about a startup or a new player about which there is too little or nothing written on the internet? It won’t appear on Bloomberg or Crunchbase. And, you cannot miss it being in your market research report just because they haven’t made it to the news yet.

What if such a startup is being funded by one of your competitors? Or if it is a strategic partner of one of the biggest conglomerates/giants? It must be the kind of insight you would like in your report.

In today’s case study, I’ll share one such recent instance where we were scouting technologies for one of the biggest cosmetic companies. Our objective was to help them find a way to remove non-biodegradable components from their cosmetic products. So, we were aiming to find a newfound company or startup working in this area that could become a good candidate for acquisition. But, it had not made it to any website or to mainstream news sites.

Cut short to the good part – we found a startup that was a strategic partner of the Chinese multinational conglomerate Alibaba. The startup company was hard to find if we hadn’t supplemented our market research with patent analytics. We will be discussing what our course of action was and how it led to an underdog Chinese start-up partner for Alibaba?

The first strategy of patent analytics

Now, to start with the research, we investigated patent sets to figure out various companies that owned patents around the line of how to remove non-biodegradable components from cosmetic products. After thorough research, we found that one of the companies was from China, “Qingdao Saize Network Technology” with 115 patents. These patents were good and highly relevant to our research.

Moving forward, we had to see if the company in question was a startup or if it was already a well-established company. Now, it’s not very difficult to find such information about an organization, but this time we got stuck because even our multiple different searches returned no relevant results. It wasn’t in the news and no website had covered it.

We resorted to the patent portfolio of this company and saw that all of its patents were filed after 2016. This gave us a hint that this was indeed a startup but did not want to jump to conclusions.

It didn’t take us long to realize that a normal search is not going to work here. We decided to dig a bit deeper into their portfolio and found the Chinese name for this company. In the upcoming searches, we used this name and that is when our efforts started returning results as there was no mention of this company with their English name but, the Chinese name brought something up.

Not only were we able to confirm that this company indeed was a startup, but we also came to know that they were a cooperative strategic partner of Alibaba. Something really interesting for the kind of search we were doing.

Why do we include patent data when conducting market research?

Coming to a situation where we didn’t include patent data in our strategy, do you think we could have found the startup that we were looking for? There are high chances that we would have missed this startup completely due to its negligible market presence. 

Not just missing this particular startup, the solution that we were searching for would have slipped right through our radar. This is how including patent data in your market research can give you an entirely new dimension of insights to explore.

Apart from protecting their innovation, businesses use patents strategically to get an edge over their competition and expand into new geographies and technology areas. This is why patent information is a great way to analyze technology shifts and trends in your market.

While each case is different than the last, we employ various strategies when analyzing patent data and if you are looking for a team of experts that can give you fruitful results. You might be on the right track.

Similar Case Study: How Patents can help spot tech companies’ invasion?


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Authored by: Mitthatmeer Kaur, Senior Research Analyst (Patent Analytics), and Rajneesh Rana, Research Analyst (Market Research)

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