By John Toon
PATENT MAPPING HELPS FIND INNOVATION PATHWAYS
What’s likely to be the next big thing? What might be the most fertile areas for innovation? Where should companies invest their limited research funds?
By providing a visual representation of where universities, companies, and other organizations are protecting intellectual property produced by their research, patent maps can help answer those questions. But finding real trends in these maps can be difficult because categories with large numbers of patents — pharmaceuticals, for instance — are usually treated the same as areas with few patents.
Now, a new patent mapping system that considers how patents cite one another may help researchers better understand the relationships between technologies and how they may come together to spur disruptive new areas of innovation. The Patent Overlay Mapping system, which also categorizes patents in a new way, was produced by a team of researchers.
“What we are trying to do is forecast innovation pathways,” said Alan Porter, professor emeritus in the Georgia Tech School of Public Policy and the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial & Systems Engineering, and the project’s principal investigator. “We take data on research and development, such as publications and patents, and we try to elicit some intelligence to help us gain a sense for where things are headed.”
Innovation often occurs at the intersection of major technology sectors, noted Jan Youtie, director of policy research services in Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. Studying the relationships between different areas can help suggest where the innovation is occurring and what technologies are fueling it.
The patent mapping research was supported by the National Science Foundation. In addition to Youtie and Porter, former Georgia Tech graduate student Luciano Kay, now a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California Santa Barbara, helped conduct the research. The researchers used analytical software from Search Technology of Norcross.