Discussion of all things patent mapping and analytics.
Cover of William Shakespeare
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet"
Wrote William Shakespeare in one of his most well known play's "Romeo and Juliet" many centuries ago. But does the same apply to patent searching?
Names, and particularly technical words are particularly important when searching patents. For this reason a whole field had developed to improve searching using keywords, sometimes referred to as 'semantic searching". Keyword based searching does have a couple of important natural limitations to deal with though:
Combining a keyword search with a International Patent Classification (IPC) or US patent classification codes can improve matters, but again limitations appear:
But of course, we all know this. Anybody who has ever reviewed a list of patent search results would have waded through a whole set of mostly irrelevant patents before finding the patents they were looking for. Patent examiners can spend hours seaching for relevant patents, even using some very sophisticated patent searching tools.
This is an alternative though, and more and more people are using citation analysis to augment their keyword searches. During patent examination either patent applicants or examiner identiify similar patents, and the resulting patent citations are publicly available. The advantage of citation analysis is that links can be made between patents based on the inherant subject of the patents, i.e independently of the technical word used. A patent examiner instinctively knows that a 'box' is a 'carton' is a 'container', to give but one example. Similarly, patent citations are generally made to patents disclosing similar inventions, but not to every patent in the technical field. So inherently, using patent citations to identify similar inventions has the potential to bring a lot of precision to the patent searching task.
However, even citation searching has its limitations:
Network Patent Analysis (NPA) uses a different approach to analysing citation connection. It looks for supporting evidence (similar citation links) to weight the importance of a given citation link. Weighting of citation links is then used to help identify clusters of patents of very similar subject matter, with the relative importance of these patents emphasised. Weakly connected patents (due to being in another subject matter area) are ignored. Results are presented in a visually insightful manner, as shown in the figure below. The visual cluster can even be used to suggest similar patents that are not directly citationally connected to the patent in question.
Figure: Example of cluster analysis from an upcoming NPA white paper on Alzheimer's patents. Another examples of cluster analyis, applied to smartphone patents, is found here.
This relieves the patent analyst, attorney or lawyer of the burden of having to wade through what can be hundreds or thousands of unrelated or only loosely patents. Instead they can concentrate on the most similar and most influential patents in the field, saving time and money, and reducing the risk, of missing key patents. Or in other words, NPA brings a new level of both:
into patent searching.
Or in other words, we believe that the words of Shakespeare can be applied to patents - a patent by another (technical) name can smell as sweet...