Top disruptors prioritise trademarks from the start

Fresh data suggests that the start-ups that go on to shake up the industry landscape tend to chart a different course to the norm when it comes to IP filing.

In June 2020 CNBC released its eighth annual Disruptor 50 list, which identifies the private companies “whose breakthroughs are influencing business and market competition at an accelerated pace”. The entities on the list are mainly tech heavyweights with strong financial backing; 36 are at – or have already surpassed – the $1 billion valuation mark.

Given that these are the start-ups with some of the greatest promise, it is worth exploring what part intellectual property has played in their growing businesses. Positively, our analysis shows that disruptors have not only been quick to protect their intangibles, they have also developed fairly robust trademark portfolios in the relatively small amount of time during which they have been active.

A total of 50 companies were considered for this analysis, 42 of which are headquartered in North America (the United States accounting for 40 of these), with seven in the Middle East and Asia, and one in Europe (in Sweden). The start-ups, on average, are about eight years old, with the oldest founded in 2005 and the youngest in 2016 (see Table 1 – companies are listed as they are ranked by CNBC).

Table 1: Top 50 disruptors and their trademark portfolios – 2020

CompanyLaunchedCountryNumber of trademarksNumber of registersFirst filingTop register and number of marks
Stripe2010United States (CA)198632011United States18
Coupang2010South Korea2,409252010South Korea1,951
Indigo Agriculture2014United States496212016Brazil73
Coursera2012United States (CA)82202012Mexico/Brazil/China12
Klarna2005Sweden66152019EUIPO19
Tempus2015United States2342015United States14
Zipline2014United States (CA)522015United States4
SoFi2011United States (CA)5632012United States53
Neteera2015Israel422018Israel/WIPO2
Gojek2010Indonesia68862011Indonesia628
WeLab2013Hong Kong11152013Indonesia49
DoorDash2013United States (CA)106122014United States46
Heal2014United States (CA)512014United States5
Movandi2016United States (CA)112016United States1
Better.com2016United States912017United States9
Grab2012Singapore467132014Malaysia128
Lemonade2015United States3892015Argentina/Brazil9
Root Insurance2015United States422017United States /Canada2
Healthy.io2013Israel2452018EUIPO7
GoodRx2011United States (CA)1312011United States13
Eat JUST2011United States (CA)3162012United States15
goPuff2013United States1432013United States11
Affirm2012United States (CA)1562013United States11
Kabbage2009United States7532009United States70
Chime2013United States (CA)312014United States3
Dave2016United States (CA)1212017United States12
Trulioo2011Canada822014United States5
Ripple2012United States (CA)290402012China50
TALA2011United States (CA)1962015United States /India/Kenya4
Didi Chuxing2012China6,128662011China5,658
SentinelOne2013United States (CA)2582014United States6
Butterfly Network2011United States5492015United States18
Marqeta2010United States (CA)1042015United States4
Apeel2012United States (CA)81112014United States23
K Health2016United States742019United States3
Databricks2013United States (CA)23182013United States3
C3.ai2009United States (CA)6172010United States37
Attabotics2016Canada2772017India9
CLEAR2010United States1722005United States3
Snowflake2012United States (CA)61102014United States18
Airbnb2008United States (CA)9941022010China263
Duolingo2011United States41182014United States10
LanzaTech2005United States4662011United States24
Ginkgo Bioworks2009United States3132011United States15
Guild Education2015United States212020United States2
Robinhood2013United States (CA)4182014United States27
Convoy2015United States-----
Beautycounter2011United States (CA)207262012United States48
Impossible Foods2011United States (CA)240322013United States32
UiPath2005United States176172016United Arab Emirates25

Source: CompuMark; Note: ‘(CA)’ stands for California-based. Better.com owns an additional 20 US state trademark registrations. goPuff owns an additional four US state trademark registrations. Airbnb owns an additional 16 US state trademark applications.

The first thing that stands out is the sheer number of businesses that have sought trademark protection. Convoy, a Seattle-based trucking software company, is the only one without a single registered mark. According to CompuMark’s director, government and content strategy, IP group, Robert Reading, the start-up had applied for a US application for the term ‘Convoy’ in 2015 but it was opposed and ultimately abandoned.

Looking at the top 50 data set as a whole shows that the average portfolio has 276 trademarks. However, this number is skewed by a small number of companies filing large volumes of marks (see Figure 1). Excluding Didi and Coupang gives an average of 106.5 trademarks per entity. The average portfolio size for disruptors located in the United States is 89 trademarks.

Figure 1: Top trademark owners

WTR 85 - Fig 1

Source: CompuMark

It is worth noting that a vast majority of the two outliers’ portfolios are protected in their home jurisdictions. Of Didi’s 6,128 trademarks, 5,658 are filed in China, while 1,951 of Coupang’s 2,409 are filed in South Korea. The latter, which has been dubbed the Amazon of South Korea, interestingly owns trademarks for COUPANG ONE CLICK and COUPANG PRIME, says Reading.

Aside from taking the time to lay the foundations of their trademark portfolios, this year’s disruptors are also shown to be cognisant of obtaining far-reaching geographic protections. On average, the top 50 have filed trademarks in 13 registers. Airbnb has the most diverse portfolio, which is unsurprising given its international operations (see Figure 2). Rounding out the top three are Didi and Stripe, which filed marks in 66 and 63 registers, respectively. It is worth noting that applications filed via the Madrid Protocol are counted as one register.

Figure 2: Top filers by register

WTR 85 - Fig 2

Source: CompuMark

The United States was the top register for 34 of the 49 start-ups studied. Typically, companies sought the most protection in their home countries, but that was not always the case. Two Canadian companies, Attabotics and Trulioo, filed most of their marks in India and the United States, with nine and five applications, respectively. Klarna, a fintech company based in Sweden and the only European company to feature in the list, has filed most of its marks at the EUIPO. Meanwhile, of the two Israeli companies to make the list, Healthy.io has filed most of its trademarks at the EUIPO, while Neteera’s filings are tied between its home jurisdiction and WIPO.

A significant number of these disruptors sought to protect their brands and trademarks in the very early stages of their business. Precisely 70% applied for trademark protection sometime between the year of launching and their second year in the market (see Figure 3). Two start-ups, Didi and CLEAR, filed their first marks before their businesses were properly founded (Didi’s in 2011 and CLEAR in 2005). On average, the companies studied took just under two years to file their first trademarks after launching.

Figure 3: Time to first filing

WTR 85 - Fig 3

Source: CompuMark

Of course, trademarks are not the only intangible that needs protecting, especially given that these disruptors are heavily tech-focused. Analysts from Derwent, a Clarivate Analytics company, repeated the initial analysis to gain a better understanding of the depth and breadth of the start-ups’ patent portfolios (see Table 2). A total of 36 of the top 50 owned at least one patent, and the average size of these portfolios amounted to 163.5 patents. It took about 2.3 years after launching for these businesses to file their first patents, which is just slightly more time than it took for the first trademarks to be filed.

Table 2: Top 50 disruptors and their patent portfolios – 2020

CompanyLaunchedSize of trademark portfolioFirst trademark filingSize of patent portfolioFirst patent filing
Stripe20101982011422010
Coupang20102,40920101872014
Indigo Agriculture201449620162302013
Coursera2012822012522013
Klarna2005662019222012
Tempus2015232015172018
Zipline201452015312015
SoFi2011562012--
Neteera201542018172015
Gojek2010688201122018
WeLab20131112013--
DoorDash20131062014352014
Heal201452014--
Movandi2016120161002016
Better.com201692017--
Grab20124672014432015
Lemonade2015382015--
Root Insurance201542017--
Healthy.io2013242018172014
GoodRx

2011

13

2011

10

2013

Eat JUST

2011

31

2012

-

-

goPuff

2013

14

2013

-

-

Affirm

2012

15

2013

1

2013

Kabbage

2009

75

2009

9

2012

Chime

2013

3

2014

-

-

Dave

2016

12

2017

-

-

Trulioo

2011

8

2014

7

2014

Ripple

2012

290

2012

25

2015

TALA

2011

19

2015

-

-

Didi Chuxing

2012

6,128

2011

2,022

2014

SentinelOne

2013

25

2014

28

2014

Butterfly Network

2011

54

2015

730

2011

Marqeta

2010

10

2015

13

2011

Apeel

2012

81

2014

97

2013

K Health

2016

7

2019

2

2018

Databricks

2013

23

2013

25

2014

C3.ai

2009

61

2010

62

2010

Attabotics

2016

27

2017

17

2015

CLEAR

2010

17

2005

76

2011

Snowflake

2012

61

2014

222

2011

Airbnb

2008

994

2010

213

2012

Duolingo

2011

41

2014

3

2015

LanzaTech

2005

46

2011

1,017

2010

Ginkgo Bioworks

2009

31

2011

255

2010

Guild Education

2015

2

2020

-

-

Robinhood

2013

41

2014

-

-

Convoy

2015

-

-

-

-

Beautycounter

2011

207

2012

5

2017

Impossible Foods

2011

240

2013

251

2011

UiPath

2005

176

2016

3

2019

Source: CompuMark and Derwent, Clarivate Analytics companies

Curiously, almost half of the companies in this data set applied for a trademark before filing for their first patent. The expectation, explains Reading, is that we would see patents filed first, then a trademark a few years later, which would fall in line with the R&D process of idea to development, then the product or service being launched. On average, these disruptors filed trademarks a few months before the first patent. Overall, 16 businesses filed a trademark before their first patent, while seven lodged their first trademark and patent applications in the same year.

This year’s disruptors are expected to have a bold impact on the market and with such strong innovative potential it is promising to see that these brands have invested the time and money to build up their IP protections. Nearly all 50 start-ups have laid the groundwork for their trademark portfolios and 36 the foundations for their patent holdings. The lower number of businesses seeking patent protection is not entirely surprising, as only a small percentage of tech start-ups take the time to develop patent portfolios of significant depth.

What is remarkable about this data is that it shows that the disruptors are not following the usual patent/trademark filing process as pointed out by Reading. Instead, most have been extremely quick to secure both trademark and patent protections. It may be the nature of these businesses to be fast acting and flexible, but their filing approaches are nonetheless a positive reflection of how strong-performing start-ups feel about intellectual property.

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