As enterprises around the world pour more money into research and invention to stay competitive, the need for analyzing the worthiness of R&D expenses also grows.
One company serving that function is PatSnap. When co-founder Jeffrey Tiong was working in the medical devices industry more than a decade ago, he realized how critical intellectual property and patents were in the tech world.
In 2007, Tiong launched PatSnap in Singapore to build a global patent search database and overtime pushed the firm into adjacent realms. PatSnap’s more recent software, which Tiong dubs “innovation intelligence,” helps enterprises analyze their R&D strategies, keep track of competitors, and identify potential partners by crunching data around the likes of scientific papers, government R&D grants and startup funding news.
“What we found is that a lot of companies [treat] innovation as a department, as a function, as a KPI in an organization,” said Tiong. “Many companies are hiring people… who have to find out what kind of technology is out there and who is doing what. You cannot do everything by yourself nowadays. You need to partner.”
Investors are paying attention to the R&D boom. In PatSnap’s latest funding round, the company attracted SoftBank’s Vision Fund II and Tencent as lead investors. The Series E round totals $300 million, with participation from CITIC Industrial Fund, which is part of Chinese state-owned conglomerate CITIC Group; Sequoia China; Xiaomi founder Lei Jun’s Shunwei Capital; as well as Vertex Growth and Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia & India, both part of the Vertex investment family.
Masayoshi Son spent less than half an hour on a call with Tiong before the billionaire founder of SoftBank hammered out a deal for PatSnap. In his early twenties, Son invented and patented a device that he sold for $1 million, so “he understands the importance of inventions, IP and innovation,” Tiong said.
Tiong declined to disclose PatSnap’s post-money valuation in an interview with TechCrunch but said the number has crossed $1 billion.
The United States is PatSnap’s largest market, although China is rapidly growing as a revenue stream amid the country’s patent filing spree. In 1999, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) received just 276 applications from China. By 2019, that number rose to 58,990, surpassing that of the United States.
But compared with their western counterparts, Chinese corporations are less inclined to pay big bucks for software, which makes it challenging for SaaS companies to monetize in the country. PatSnap operates under the brand Zhihuiya in China, with customers ranging from retail brands, research institutes, AI firms to pharmaceutical giants.
The sheer number of patents doesn’t translate conveniently into technological clout. The U.S. is still ahead of China in terms of R&D expenditure, Tiong observed. Furthermore, “the quality of the patents in China is not as strong and a lot of them are incremental innovation instead of groundbreaking types of invention,” he added.
PatSnap says it now has more than 10,000 customers in over 50 countries, with a 700-person workforce spread across the U.S., Europe, Canada, Japan and China. Some of its notable customers include Tesla, General Electric, Siemens, Dyson, PalPal, Spotify and Megvii. With the fresh capital, the company plans to further develop products, acquire more domain expertise, expand global sales presence and invest in human capital.