A patent map, also known as a patent landscape, is a visual picture -- in the form of graphs, charts, tables and other symbols -- of information about many patents collected in a database, which allows researchers to detect trends in a particular patent field. The Internet assists people who are creating patent maps in many different ways, including providing access to the online patent databases of different countries.
Patent maps show facts and trends about multiple patents by using many different types of graphics, depending on the information that patent researchers are seeking and the type of symbols that they prefer. A 2011 report by an Australian intellectual property law firm, Griffith Hack, titled "The Smartphone Patent Wars," displays maps of patents filed by the leading rival smartphone manufacturers. The individual patents are depicted as bubbles, colored-coded to identify the patents of each rival manufacturer. The patent bubble symbols are connected by lines representing citations within each patent to earlier patents. Thicker lines between the bubbles representing the patents of rival manufacturers serve as a visual alert for future lawsuits, because the thicker lines show that some patents of rival manufacturers share numerous citations to the same earlier patents.
Patent maps first appeared at IBM in 1950. The concept then spread to a study group within the Japan Patent Office. In 1974 the Japanese study group members published a method of analyzing the patents that flowed into the Japan Patent Office. Patent mapping development was slowed for the next two decades by the necessity of consulting voluminous paper patent records in various countries' national patent offices in order to create patent maps. Patent maps improved in the 1990s when the proliferation of personal computers attached to the Internet allowed the development of numerous different patent mapping software programs and increased patent researchers' access to various countries' online patent databases.
Competitive Intelligence Role
The patent mapping process is assisted by the Internet in ways that go beyond the convenience of accessing the patent records of different countries online. The Internet has made it easier for organizations to develop and publicize other patent databases in addition to those held by individual countries. The Internet has also facilitated the rapid transmission of industry news, so businesses can add information about their competitors' patents and research interests to their own patent maps. Patent mapping is increasingly valued for its competitive intelligence role. Competitive intelligence obtained via the Internet and added to patent maps can influence inventors' and businesses' decisions to pursue, drop or sell off patents.
Patent Mapping Programs
The Internet has also broadened the range of choices for inventors and businesses searching for patent mapping programs. The International Society for Patent Information lists many different vendors of for-profit patent mapping software. The Internet also offers a wealth of free information on patent mapping. A Japan Patent Office report published in 2000, "Guide Book for Practical Use of Patent Map for Each Technology Field," offers multiple pictures of different types of patent mapping graphics and shows how these different graphics can be used to create various types of patent information in several technology fields.