Crowd-Source the World: Open Innovation Through Patent Inspiration

Most companies have a strong team of experts in their own research field. History has shown that many innovations come from transferring knowledge across industries. How can we use patents to facilitate this process? Patents are an abundant source of technical information that can be used as inspiration for new technology creation. More than half of the 69 million patents are more than 20 years old and thereby freely available knowledge. A large part of the other half are inventions patented outside your industry that can act as out-of-domain solutions and are also free to use. This article proposes tips and tricks how to harvest new solutions of other industries for your company challenges using patents.

From cheese to rubber…

Have you ever tried to slice sticky cheese? I have and it’s not easy. Imagine cutting on an industrial scale? Let see how specific patent searching can give us several solutions to solve this problem. A simple search on "slicing cheese" gives you a patent pool with 820 patents. Patents are categorized in classification codes, the code analysis makes a clean overview of the classification codes in your patent pool:

Code analysis (MainGroup) on “slicing cheese”

Fig. 1 Code analysis (MainGroup) on "slicing cheese"

The largest group has the classification code B26D7/00 “Details on apparatus for cutting”, a good summary about cutting. Creating a new search for this code "B26D7/00" shows us that there are 41571 patents over different domains. To narrow the domains and lift the relevance, we add the property that sticky by adding the filter "sticky". It results in 140 patents, let's examine the companies:

Company analysis

Fig. 2 Company analysis on code "B26D7/00" and "sticky"

The result shows that the cheese industry has not the only expertise in cutting sticky material. Goodyear for example would be an ideal open innovation partner, a company in a completely different domain, solving exactly the same challenge: cutting sticky material, this is what rubber and cheese have in common. All the patents of Goodyear can be inspiration for new solutions or even Intellectual Property (IP) in the field of cheese slicing.

From a bicycle to a wheel chair...

Looking at similar products compared to your own product can help to discover new innovation opportunities. Similar products have the similar properties or functions. One way to find the properties is by analyzing the adjectives in front of your product. Let's examine the generated abstract description for a bicycle based on the adjectives found in our patent pool.


Fig. 3 Text analysis "adjectives" close to "bicycle" (1980-1990)

We can now make a selection of the best adjectives to find similar products compared to ours. Once we have a selection, we can start a combination analysis. The combination analysis will combine your selection by running a search for all the terms. This prevents you to do a very search intensive manual work. The results will show how many patents were found that contain those terms. By exploring those combinations and their related patents, you can find the related products compared to a bicycle. From scooter to wheelchair, these are products that have similarities with a bicycle but are not a bicycle.

Combination analysis

Fig. 4 Combination analysis (8 terms)

Being in the business of bicycles, you can watch their domains for latest innovations and harvest the good ideas as technology import to the bicycle domain. Also a bicycle producer could explore these products as new markets or places to enforce new Intellectual Property (IP).

From Apple to Sanyo or Kodak...

Who owns the technology out there that can be new for your domain? Open innovation mapping is a single click generated collection of inspirational companies that are often no direct competitors, but have technology you are looking for.

Domain player analysis

Fig. 5 Open Innovation Map 1st generation Apple

The visualization shows the top 6 domains of a company. In this case Apple was analyzed in the map shown in Fig. 5. Within each branch it identifies which companies do only has this domain in common with the central company, so that their solutions differ substantially. The more they differ the greater the novelty for your domain. Since the technology is already active they present it proven new ways to handle your challenges.

Domain player analysis

Fig. 6 "Electrical digital data processing" domain branch with companies

You can actively explore their relevant solutions and harvest new angles to your research. Since the solutions it visualizes are patented in a different domain, you can often transfer the knowledge without royalty and even claim it in your industry. Open innovation mapping is like asking the rest of the world what they know about your daily research questions. Due to the setup of the query, the map will explore the domains as far as possible from your known research approaches.

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