Quantifying patent commercialisation to support engineering design

Project: Research

Project Details


"This project will investigate if crowdsourcing can be used to aggregate the content of disparate, open-data sources across the internet to determine which patents underpin commercial products, and organise and present these according to technical criteria in a visual form appropriate for engineering design.

Patents are frequently used to quantify levels of innovation associated with specific regions or companies. However despite the development of sophisticated data mining tools to support the analysis of over 50 million online patent records, little is known about which patents are actually commercialized and how they are embodied in commercial products. Because of this patent informatics has been inherently limited to the study of the records, rather than the use, of Intellectual Property (IP). This information gap inevitably reduces the accuracy of academic and commercial analysis that use patent data for applications such as innovation research, fore-sighting, and IP portfolio valuations. Furthermore, the presentation of existing data maps is not in a form that is useful for engineering designers when conceptualising and embodying products: it is predominantly text-based (and often deliberately obfuscated) when more visual presentation with exemplars and appropriate technical taxonomic terms would greatly enhance utility when undertaking engineering design development.

Crowdsourcing utilises large networks of open people to compete discrete tasks. Virtual tools are used to co-ordinate the distribution, payment and co-ordination of results, resulting in a labour market that is open 24/7 and a diverse workforce available to perform tasks quickly and cheaply. The distributed network of human workers provide on-line, black-box reasoning capabilities that could far exceed the capabilities of current AI technologies (i.e. genetic algorithms, neural-nets, case-based reasoning) in terms of flexibility and scope.

This project proposes that crowdsourcing can be utilised to access open data sources such as user manuals, product labelling, court proceedings and company web pages to understand which patents are actively used in current products and how they have been embodied. With a more accurate representation of innovation commercialisation, technical metadata (labelling), and utilisation, we envisage patent searches not as a stage-gate check but as a revitalised source of design inspiration. Indeed, if crowdsourcing proves a cheap, scalable way of collating this information and applying appropriate taxonomic and visual engineering information, it could fundamentally alter the early phases of engineering design. To this end, the project will result in a visualization tool that can be used to both guide and inspire design conceptualisation and embodiment."

Key findings

"Today although there are over 50 million online patent records instantly available, understanding of their impact on innovation has never been harder. The volume and language of patents combine to make interpretation of their contents and assessment of their significance in the context of any given project a laborious process. The problem is exemplified by so called patent thickets defined as a dense web of overlapping intellectual property rights that a company must hack its way through in order to actually commercialize new technology (Shapiro, 2000). Given this designers need new tools to allow them to quickly and accurately understand the patent landscape in the context of a new design or innovation.
This research investigates the feasibility of using a crowdsourcing process to cut through the patent jungle and deliver concise summary of the relevant Intellectual Property and its applications in an area of interest. Key components in crowdsourcing workflows are repletion (i.e. multiple, parallel tasks to generate sets of answers), peer review and merger, iteration, and the linkage of payment to quality assessments. This proposal seeks to quantify how well these techniques could be used to locate relevant patent records, summarize their contents and collaboratively construct info graphic that shows the relative strength of clustering around topics. In other words the project will focus on the use of the crowd to provide the designer with two specific areas of functionality: 1) Patent Landscape Visualisation; 2) Patent usage assessment."
Effective start/end date1/09/1531/05/17


  • EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council): £183,254.00

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure


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