February 18, 2015
Hot technologies in USPTO class of 2014
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. Automationassisted
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. The owners of these patents are shown here.
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
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.