Patents need press releases too! Introduction to patent journalism
Science news portals like Phys.Org, EurekAlert, Science Daily, and Science Magazine have a common accord: they popularize novel and interesting research through science press releases and news articles. At the same time, research today is moving away from the traditional approach of austerity to a more impact-based, real-world application-oriented approach. This leads to an increasing number of new technologies and products arising from such research, which ultimately get patented to realize a commercial advantage over other competitors in the same field. But suppose a new patented product or technology is developed and it needs to be “out there,” advertised in the best possible manner so that its advantages and impact are abundantly clear: how does one do that?
Media coverage of patents via written press releases or other formats—called patent journalism—is fast gaining traction as an essential form of science communication. Patents need press releases because apart from helping create economic value, they can also be a powerful medium of communicating scientific and technological advances. But what constitutes good patent journalism? How is it different from the science news we consume every day? With research organizations increasingly adopting innovation-based approaches, a number of universities like NUS (Singapore), University of Tokyo, Chung-Ang University and the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Korea have fast started churning out patents and patentable technologies. Therefore, it is of tremendous importance to understand the nitty gritty of patent journalism.
Most science press releases have a few common structural characteristics: they almost always comprise
- A catchy title, which often acts as the “hook”
- A subtitle that further expands upon the title
- A short summary of the research
- A main body that describes the What, Where, When, Who, How, Why, and So What of the science, and ends with a What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)
- Quotes from the author(s)/scientist(s)
- Links to original paper
Similarly, a well-written press release for a patent typically includes
- Announcing the patent and short introduction (Who, What, Where, When)
- Patent number, patent issuing office – provide links if possible OR product name, (What)
- Short description of the patented technology/product (How, Why)
- Benefits of the patented technology/product: why the technology is exciting or pathbreaking, how the company is a pioneer of industry technology (Why, So What)
- Quotes from the CEO/President/MD
- Quick introduction to the company (what it does) and its market share/penetration/customer base/revenue/product portfolio (in the context of the patented technology)
- How many patents does the company already have?
- Description of other similar/related patents held by the company
- Concluding remarks (WIIFM)
Here are two excellent patent journalism pieces. The first is an announcement of a USA Technologies patent for a cashless e-payment vending. The other is an announcement of a novel live-attenuated influenza vaccine by Vivaldi Biosciences Inc., which includes a modified viral NS1 gene. Both these press releases do an excellent job of providing real, factual information and allow the user/reader to follow up for more information. Most patent press releases only harp on the perceived benefits of the product or technology and fail to provide actionable information. These two press releases are good examples of the specificity and level of detail that characterize and press release that has actual substance and not just glitter.
Building on that, and to conclude, here are a few practices for patent journalism:
- Patent number should always be included
- Patent issuing office should always be mentioned
- An explanation of the technology should always be provided, instead of just relying on the perceived benefits of the technology
- Talking about the company’s current patent portfolio adds tremendous value
- Assignment and license of patents between parties should be checked carefully. Often in science, a research institute licenses a patent to a company that can commercialize the product/technology. In such cases (e.g., Vivaldi biosciences and Mount Sinai School of Medicine), both the parties need to be mentioned