Contributed by Michael Spence
2014 was another banner year for new US IP with an 8% growth of new patent grants over 2013. Looking down the list of top 50 companies, we see that over 70% are in high-tech – a pretty strong showing. In this blog, we’ll go deep on a few hot technologies from the “Class of 2014” using Chipworks Patent Analytics.
Let’s start with the upward trend that’s underpinning the Y-o-Y growth in US patents. The number of active US patents issued in 2014 was around 326,000 across all technologies. You’ll find many blog posts online that break this down by company – we’ll just note that the top 10 granted US patent holders in 2014 are all high-tech companies (by volume).
Classifications of what was patented in 2014
To understand what was patented in 2014, most IP professionals (and tools) lean on International Patent Classification (IPC) codes (or CPC) – these divide the world of technology into about 75,000 buckets (CPC – 300,000). PTO examiners assign one or more tiered IPCs to a patent. We’ll focus on “high-tech” IPCs as this industry dominated US patenting in 2014 – these patents carry IPCs rooted in the G, H, B81 & B82 Sections/Classes and represent 191,000 (60%) of the US patents issued in 2014.
An IPC subclass distribution from these patents yields a first indication of what was patented. We’ve found IPCs are great for high-level analyses, but at the group and subgroup levels, they often fail to align with a specific technology or fail to capture all the patents on that technology. Instead, we’ll lean on the big data algorithms and predictive models of the Chipworks Patent Analytics Solution (powered by KMX).
Hot technologies in 2014 using Chipworks Patent Analytics
First, we broke down the 191,000 patents by “broad technology” using predictive models trained on the +60,000 patents Chipworks has read. These models align with our analysis methods – the ones Chipworks uses to produce claim charts (we’ve got +3,300 claim charts under our belt).
OLED is a hot process technology
We then plotted a topographic map of the 36,000 process (fabrication) patents. In it, we can see a strong peak around “light, emitting, organic” (ie: OLED). Using a combination of IPC and a handful of simple keyword searches in KMX, we quickly identified ~850 examples of OLED patents around that peak. We then trained a KMX classifier on these examples to find more like them. During this process, KMX suggested patents that contained other keywords and IPCs but were, in fact, about OLEDs. These other words included “electroluminescence” (or “EL” for short) and “organometallic” – not to mention their myriad of misspellings! We quickly found ~1,500 OLED fabrication patents – ~2x more than our simple IPC and keyword search. Automation-assisted algorithms relieve the burden on your SMEs (subject-matter experts) to craft and maintain complex key-based Boolean searches and find patents that conventional search misses.
This OLED activity is all very interesting, but what do the past and future hold for OLED? To answer this, we plot the patents on a related but obsolete technology – the CRT. This serves as an excellent point of comparison for OLED. Looking at the OLED innovation timeline, we see significant growth in 2014 – this growth has not yet plateaued. Returning to our IPC analysis, we see that the H01L 51 IPC group dominates, but that many other IPCs were also used to describe this technology in 2014 – this is why IPC analysis can only take you so far.
Content delivery is a hot systems technology
The next area we investigated was in the system space. We plotted the ~125,000 Systems patents in a topographic map and found a dense peak around “Content, Server, Media”. Not surprisingly, patents around this peak are about delivering multimedia content to mobiles, browsers and TVs.
We found +5,000 patents in this space using iterative classification. Their owners are shown below. Looking at the IPC group distribution of these patents, we see a variety enabling technologies from online security to interactive content distribution for web, mobile and TV. Again, we note that no single IPC represents this technology and so text analytics are required.
So what does this all mean?
We’ve shown that OLED and “content delivery” are among the top technologies patented in 2014 by volume. We’ve also shown that both OLED and content delivery appear to have a bright future. Just last week, Samsung Display announced that they will be investing $3.6 Billion in a new OLED production line.
Hopefully, we’ve also given you some food for thought about the limitations of the IPC system and how your IP process could benefit from the predictive algorithms (machine learning) in the Chipworks Patent Analytics. We have other algorithms and models that predict patent value but we’ll save that for another blog entry.
Ultimately, patent analysts need to put eyes on patents to assess their value and determine if they are used in products.
Automation isn’t about to replace skilled SMEs – but we believe you can, and should, use it to ensure that your SMEs are looking at the right patents.
Chipworks Patent Analytics produces patent portfolio insights in just minutes. Allow us to walk you through a demonstration of how we can help you deliver better informed IP decisions.