'Patent landscape' is a term often used by a range of people in the IP profession. But what exactly is a patent landscape in practice? And why are they increasingly being produced?
Why are patent landscapes so useful?
Patent landscapes can provide a very unique and valuable perspective on a technology and its commercial interests.
Patent applicants file patents in order to protect their innovation. Governments grant patents for patentable inventions in order to a) encourage investment in innovation and b) to encourage publication of new ideas. This second effect should not be underestimated, as even the most secretive of companies can file thousands of patents, providing access to their thinking that that otherwise would be impossible to obtain. Further helping the quality of patent data is the fact that patents can cost significant amounts to file, meaning that applicants only file patents for what they perceive to be potentially commercially valuable and worthwhile inventions.
According to the latest data available from WIPO, 1.9 million patents were filed in 2010, to add to the more than 70 million patents already filed. Patents are often made available from government run databases in a highly systematic manner, making them ideal for future analysis. Patent landscapes can provide an technology and commercial overview simply unavailable from any other source.
What exactly is a patent landscape?
By reviewing these and other published patent landscape reports, the most common approaches start to come out:
1) The objective of the patent landscape is defined. This normally has some commercial, public policy or marketing objective, and in some cases can include some non-patent perspectives on the objective
2) The objective is used to define a relevant technology
3) The definition of the technology is used to create a patent search aimed at finding patents relevant to the technology. The search query can include a combination of keywords and patent classification (IPC or USPTO). Patents can be limited to those filed in certain countries, or in recent years. Identified patents can be enhanced by adding patents linked by forward or backward citations to the identified patents
4) In some landscapes patents are combined into patent families, for example when the same patent is filed in a number of different countries. In other landscapes, the individual patents are kept separate.
5) A process can be used to remove 'false positives', i.e. patents picked up in the search terms that are not relevant to the project objective. This can be automated (for example based on looking for certain keywords or patent codes that are clearly irrelevant to the objective) or manual, where a reviewer manually removes irrelevant patents. Alternatively a combination of automated and manual processes can be used.
6) An attempt is made to standardise the owners of patents. For example, patents owned by TOYOTA USA may be combined with patents owned by TOYOTA JAPAN on the basis that they belong to the same overall company.
7) Patents are group in a meaningful way. For example a patent landscape report in the area of renewable energy patents might cluster patents into by the type of renewable energy. In some cases, this taxonomy of patent groups can include sub-groups, for example the aforementioned set of renewable energy patents would include a grouping of solar energy patents, and then could include sub-groups for different types of solar energy production. Clustering can be done in an automatic fashion, for example by keywords or patent codes. Or patents can be manually assigned to clustered, or again a combination of automated and manual processes can be used. Patents can also be grouped by owner, country of origin, age, and status, and in some cases grouped using a combination of parameters, i.e. "solar cells patents filed by Japanese companies". Arguably this grouping and sub-grouping of patents is one of the most important parts of patent landscaping, as this help uncover patterns in the patent data.
8) Trends graphs can be produced to look at major filing trends, either for the overall number of patents, or just for certain groupings.
Figure 1): Filing trends for hybrid car patents. © Griffith Hack 1999. Griffith Hack images and examples will be used in this many examples in this blog instead of images from other and equally worthy authors simply to avoid any copyright issues.
9) The leading patent owners in a technology area can be identified and listed. This helps to identify who are likely to be most important companies in the technology. An alternative and also worthy approach is to identify the leading patent owners in specific groupings of patents
Figure 2: Leadings owners in patent landscape study of Alzheimer's patents, including a breakdown into patent groupings. © Griffith Hack 2012.
10) The leading inventors in an area, or for an applicant, may be identified
11) The leading sources (where the patents have come from) and destination (in which countries the patents have been filed in) may be identified
Figure 3: Leading country of origin for carbon trading related patents. ©Griffith Hack 2012.
12) An attempt can be made to rank the patents in terms of quality. Rankings based on forward citation count and family size are the most commonly used, but different analysts can use a variety of ranking techniques. Network Patent Analysis (NPA) ranks patents based on the influence they have on a network of related patents, and has been shown to be powerful predictor of patent quality.
13) Details can be provided of some particularly interesting patents
14) Citation analysis can be used to show relationships between patents or patent owners
Figure 4: Forward and backward citations for Motorola (now Google owned) patent US6,246,862. ©Ambercite 2012.
15) An attempt to be made to find 'white space' in the patent landscape, i.e. areas in the patent landscape where the relative number of patent filings is low.
Figure 5: NPA white space analysis. © Ambercite 2012.
Patent landscaping outputs
Outputs of patent landscapes can be in several forms
c) Spreadsheets listing patent details, which including patent quality rankings and details of patent groupings
d) Patent landscape images, in which similar patents are clustered together . These come in two forms. The most common form of patent landscape maps cluster patents by keywords. At Ambercite, we group patents using a unique process of clustering patents based on patent citation linkages as we believe that this is more precise and inclusive than clustering patents based on keywords.