Effectively managing and optimizing the value of the patent portfolio is a major challenge for many firms, especially those in knowledge intensive industries, such as the pharmaceutical, biotechnological and chemical industry. However, insights on effective patent portfolio strategies are rare. Therefore, in this article we investigate in detail how firms successfully manage and optimize their patent portfolios to increase their overall competitiveness. We discover that successful patent portfolio management is rooted in managing the patents along their life cycles. Based on the findings of ten case studies, we develop a holistic patent life cycle management model reflecting five distinctive phases of patent management: explore, generate, protect, optimize and decline. We conclude with how our findings can be used in practice.