executive impact

Research engine navigates patent jungle

10 Comments
By Hugh Ashton

“Making the intangible tangible” Tatsuo Nakamura, CEO and co-founder of SO-TI, Inc, likes to use this phrase to describe his company’s unique product. Users navigating the patent jungle, composed of literally millions of patent filings, are often at a loss to know where to start.

To assist them, SO-TI’s first product series, XLUS (pronounced “Kai-lus”), provides a visualization of relevant parts of the Japan Patent Office database, using natural language queries to discover and display the relationship of patents to each other. XLUS comes in two varieties: Green (high-speed mapping of the patent space), and White (mapping, together with searching, of full patent data and creation of a full data set for further analysis), allowing searches of Japanese patents. In 2008, the XLUS Eagle series (also in green and white colors) was unveiled for use with U.S. patent data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

After the query is submitted, SO-TI’s server farm performs the search and analysis, and within a few seconds the searcher’s web browser shows relationships as a radar chart, with the original search term in the center. Patents with similar content are arranged in positions around the original, with their distance from the center indicating their similarity to the original, and the angle at which they are displayed also indicates the nature of the content (this is, patents with content similar to each other will be displayed at the same “o’clock” relative to the original).

As well as these angular and radial dimensions, the map provides two other visual metrics. The first is color — the names of the holders of the mapped patents are given to the right of the map, and clicking on these names highlights the holders’ patents on the map, with a different color assigned to each holder. Lastly, the size of the markers on the map can indicate “patent clusters” of very similar patents.

Highlighting and selecting a marker naturally brings up references and a fuller description of the patent for further review and analysis, and the selected patent can then be used as the starting point for a new search.

Though patent search engines are not new, most demand a specialist knowledge of the field being researched and/or patent terminology. XLUS makes such searches easy for lay users, by accepting natural language text input (even including news reports), or one or more patent numbers as starting points for exploration and research.

Rather than calling XLUS a “search engine,” Nakamura prefers to use the term “research engine” to describe the software. Much more than a simple Google-like list of results, XLUS’s maps put any given patent into context, highlighting the areas where similar research has been carried out, and the authors of such research.

A reader may interpret the map and look for gaps and overlaps to gain a bird’s-eye view of the relevant industry, with an instant understanding of the current industry trends, including time-based trends if time is used as a search factor.

The unique URL displaying the chart on the browser may be sent to others within the searcher’s organization as a “read-only” summary of the results, even if the recipient does not have a license to use the XLUS service.

All these features make XLUS useful to a wide variety of users; not merely the obvious candidates, such as IP specialists in manufacturing companies wishing to avoid litigation, but also to R&D engineers seeking to understand competitors’ thinking as shown by patent registrations, and patent lawyers presenting clients’ claims in an easy-to-understand form to non-technical juries. Industry consultants and analysts can also visualize trends and movements in their specialties as shown by the “patent trail”. Already over 50 organizations are discovering the value of being able to visualize the patent space in this way.

The financial sector, too, is a potential home for XLUS. An entity considering a loan to a company against IP offered as collateral should mitigate credit risk through accurate valuation of that collateral. If a company’s patent portfolio occupies an otherwise empty gap in the patent space, it is a fair bet that this portfolio is valuable. This also applies, naturally, to the Synergies and overlaps between two potential M&A partners.

M&A world, where the synergies and overlaps between two prospective enterprises can be visualized and evaluated quicker and easier than by any other method, with XLUS providing foreign companies wishing to examine the worth of potential Japanese partners with a unique risk-avoidance tool.

Back-office analysts rating companies for the purposes of equity or bond deals will also find XLUS a valuable tool. The annual cost of using the XLUS service equates to only a few days of conventional specialists’ time, and XLUS can, claims Nakamura, produce far more meaningful and detailed results in a fraction of the time than can its human “competitors.”

So convinced are Nakamura and cofounder Yoshio Takaeda of the utility of XLUS outside Japan that they have recently opened an office in the heart of Silicon Valley to introduce XLUS to the U.S., and have plans to speed up the service for U.S. customers by installing a US-based server farm, allowing easy exploration of the vast field of U.S. patents. In addition, a future version of XLUS will expand the scope of patent exploration to EPO (Europe) and WIPO (global). A beta version of the engine modified to explore and analyze research papers is also currently undergoing testing, expanding the scope of the service and making it even more valuable.

© Japan Inc

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10 Comments
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Superb idea. This could revolutionise intellectual property management in Japan.

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Sounds like a great tool, though the first use I thought of was as a way to help back up cases where a competitor's patents are infringing on mine. Triple damages and all that great stuff.

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I hope that in 500 years, or less, mankind gets RID OF PATENTS, copyright, and all the absurd notions and laws constraining creativity attached to both. The fact that you can't invent anymore, in the fashion of the great Brittish eccentrics of old, just out of fun and folly, without shuddering in fear that someone, somewhere, even not in your country, can SUE YOU OUT OF EXISTENCE for creating something that may coincide with their idea is the most base and ignorant system of buerocratic and legal slime I could ever imagine. The fact that we needed something like XLUS to simply restore hope to the creative mind is infuriating, and I'm sure, just as you said Unagidon, that's what many will use it for.

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will japan still be able to take overseas things and use them as they like?

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The fact that you can't invent anymore, in the fashion of the great Brittish eccentrics of old, just out of fun and folly, without shuddering in fear that someone, somewhere, even not in your country, can SUE YOU OUT OF EXISTENCE for creating something that may coincide with their idea is the most base and ignorant system of buerocratic and legal slime I could ever imagine.

That's nonsense - people can still invent and create whatever they want and as long as it has the essential elements of patentability and they take the steps to patent it they will be safe. Fear of lawsuits is overrated and when done is more reflective of the bullying tactics of large companies, foreign and domestic, than anything inherently wrong with the patent system.

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will japan still be able to take overseas things and use them as they like?

Only if people are allowed to maintain their outdated and simplistic stereotypes about Japan's supposed lack of creativity.

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The problem with patent "mapping" software is it will not indemnify the results; only the opinion from a licensed patent attorney can be really trusted. The software is a good tool (and there are plenty of mapping tools on the market) but in the end, and experienced IP attorney is essential in rendering an infringement opinion...

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That's nonsense - people can still invent and create whatever they want and as long as it has the essential elements of patentability and they take the steps to patent it they will be safe.

Do you know how much successfully attaining a patent can cost? It is not something you do unless you're a multinational giant, especially as a single invention can be covered by thousands of patents.

when done is more reflective of the bullying tactics of large companies

Actually, it is most often done by small companies, so called patent trolls, who don't produce anything and thus are immune to patent infringement. Look up Acacia Technologies.

than anything inherently wrong with the patent system.

How come then that you are hard-pressed to find a patent that actually serves its purpose, i.e. distributing information about a technology? How come patent bureaus routinely approve applications that are already covered by prior art or another patent? The system is rotten, and there are now other systems which serve the same purpose, thus it is no longer required.

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Tatanka;

Good point re indemnification, but I gather this is not intended to be used by patent lawyers, but rather by engineers and research managers.

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adm kenshin;

Do you know how much successfully attaining a patent can cost? It is not something you do unless you're a multinational giant,

Yep, I've been involved with a lot from beginning to end so I know the costs, and as I was not working at a "multinational giant" I can safely say that the costs are expensive, but not that bad. Many small firms and universities file patents, hardly giant corporations. I'd rather have them be more expensive than cheaper so that the various national offices or WIPO aren't flooded with more garbage filings from self-proclaimed inventors. If some brilliant technology or process is invented but someone can;t afford to patent it (not that likely), then they're a bad businessperson if they can't rustle up some VCs or license it to someone who can patent it.

especially as a single invention can be covered by thousands of patents.

That's just silly and if that does happens that is the exception, not the norm. An "invention" is an imprecise term, anyway, and patents are not filed on a product.

Actually, it is most often done by small companies, so called patent trolls

Good point - trolls do a lot, not sure about most.

How come then that you are hard-pressed to find a patent that actually serves its purpose, i.e. distributing information about a technology?

I don't even understand that question, sorry. Sounds more like an opinion than a fact.

How come patent bureaus routinely approve applications that are already covered by prior art or another patent?

They do? It does happen, but I'd hardly say it's endemic. I've had far more cases personally where a competitor's patent app is denied because it has been reading on mine, i.e. the opposite case to what you describe.

The system is rotten, and there are now other systems which serve the same purpose, thus it is no longer required.

Good luck with that. I've found that people who rail against the idea of patents are those who can;t operate within that environment, so rather than work within it they want to throw it away, and that ain't gonna happen, nor should it.

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