A lot of the interest in Network Patent Analysis (NPA) comes from clients who are interested in so called 'white space' between patent clusters. At Ambercite we think that both clusters and white space are important:
- clusters show areas of technology investment, which is an important signal,
- white space shows the opportunities for new technologies.
But we also know that the white space is often not completely empty, with what we have defined as 'broker patents' acting to bridge different technologies. For example, the figure below which shows the grey broker patents sitting in the middle of three different clusters.
But what if there no broker patents? The figure below is a summary of the patent landscape from our recently published paper on Alzheimers patents - the full NPA landscape map is found here, and is well worth a look.
The structure of this patent landscape plot is very unusual in NPA terms. The patents form into very tight clusters, which in turn fall into two groupings of clusters. This structure can be contrasted to say a more typical NPA map, where there is a central cluster and then a series of clusters around this with significant interactions, such as the smartphone NPA map shown here.
Investigation of the subject matter of the clusters and groupings in the Alzheimer's map suggest that, in very simple terms:
- The top grouping ('Amyloid Grouping') are focused on patents claiming drugs trying to prevent the buildup of beta amyloid, a protein which is known to accumulate in plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer's affected patients.
- The bottom grouping ('Tau Grouping') is focused on patents claiming drugs focusing on other aspects of brain chemistry, including the important Tau protein, which is present in nerve cells.
The connections between these two groupings were very sparse, comprising just three main patents, as shown in the figure below:
Within the Alzheimer's paper, the highest ranked patent of all in the was US7189819. This patent is thought to protect the drug bapineuzumab, which is undergoing stage III trials at the moment, and which is co-owned by Elan Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer. This patent sits right at the centre of the largest cluster 'Peptides and antibodies targeting β-amyloid' in the top grouping of clusters.
An important paper has just been published on the effect of bapineuzumab on Alzheimer's sufferers, and perhaps surprisingly, it was found that in the trial to have no significant effect on the amount of beta amyloid in the brain. But it was found to reduce the amount of so called 'phosphorylated tau' (p-Tau) in the brain, and this could be an important outcome as p-Tau can be broadly regarded as 'damaged tau', and so may contribute to reduced brain function and other Alzheimer's symptoms. Hence a reduction in p-Tau is possibly a good thing.
And this may not be a totally surprisingly result, as besides building up in Alzheimer patient's brains as plaques, beta amyloid is thought to cause tau to change from normal tau to p-Tau.
But bapineuzumab was supposed to relate to patents found in the Amyloid Grouping, not the Tau Grouping. So did NPA get it wrong?
Well, no. NPA is merely a way of looking at the patent landscape, a lens you could call it. What NPA instead told us is:
- all of the companies that have filed patent for bapineuzumab or similar drugs appeared to focused on managing beta amyloid, and
- that there was unusual (compared to other technical areas we have looked it) low levels of linkages between the different clusters, and in particular the different groupings. This suggests that there might be opportunities to develop treatments that cut across the different clusters, opportunities that have not been heavily exploited to date. These treatments might be variations of pharmaceuticals targetting different mechanisms, or combinations of drugs to target more than one mechanism at once.
Hence the bapineuzumab p-Tau result has merely confirmed the value of white space analysis, particular when the white space is clearer than normal. Hence the take home lesson is that such clear white space in an NPA landscape should raise the question - what opportunities for new technologies that cross over this white space are going begging?