Cat goes high-tech, mining for patents

August 11, 2010

Known more for its bright yellow earthmoving equipment than its high-tech inventions, construction equipment giant Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Ill., has formed a technology licensing group that will market and license its intellectual properties to outside companies.

“We have more than 7,000 patents,” says Bill Berlinger, the licensing manager for the corporate licensing program, who explains that the company has many patents people might not expect from Caterpillar. “For example, we have more than 100 patents in global positioning systems,” including technology that’s accurate within centimeters. Other technologies the company will market include computer-controlled laser welding techniques used to manufacture its heavy equipment and position and control software.

Caterpillar unveiled the program March 18 at the National Manufacturing Week show in Chicago. The construction equipment giant is following the lead of other Fortune 500 firms with large research and development budgets, such as Dow Chemical Co. and Procter & Gamble Co., that are looking to cash in on intellectual properties.

“We spend about $700 million annually for R&D, plus another $200 million for engineering related to existing products,” said Caterpillar Chairman Glen Barton in a March 21 letter to stockholders, noting that Caterpillar employees have received more than 2,800 patents in the past six years alone. Approximately 70 percent of the company’s worth now stems from intellectual capital.

“We’re looking at every business relationship and identifying any intellectual property value,” says Berlinger. “It may be a licensee, joint venture, acquisition, joint development program, supplier development or even a marketing relationship.”

         
 

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