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Research Questions

  1. How can one assess the level of interest in the broader patenting community in the technology areas in which an organization is patenting?
  2. How can organizations determine how early or late their specific patents are with respect to when the technology area first emerged?

This report describes a method for detecting, characterizing, and analyzing the development of commercial interest in technology areas, which we call technology emergence. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's formal categorization system has been used to classify literally millions of technical documents. The classification is not merely a single technical descriptor, but a categorization of all the areas of science and technology advanced in the document as recognized by the patent examiner. A rapid increase in patent applications filed related to a specific classification thus can represent its dissemination into new and often unrelated technological areas. This rapid increase in patent application filing is a signal of technology emergence and industry acceptance. By placing their patent portfolios on s-curves, a patenting organization or sponsor can learn: (1) the level of interest in the broader patenting community in the technology areas in which the organization (and its staff) are patenting; and (2) how early or late their specific patents are with respect to when the technology area first emerged.

Key Findings

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Data Can Guide Analysis

  • A rapid increase in patent applications filed related to a specific classification can represent its dissemination into new and often unrelated technological areas. This rapid increase in patent application filing is a signal of technology emergence and industry acceptance.

S-Curves Indicate Technology Emergence

  • S-curves of patent applications and issued patents often appear when classifications and subclassifications form an increasing number of linkages to other classifications and subclassifications.
  • Through analysis of the emergence s-curve, by categorizing patents in terms of their distance from the year of emergence, we define a potential value metric for technology transfer staff in government, nonprofit institutions, or private-sector firms seeking to maximize the value of their patent portfolios or their chances of winning in the event of litigation.
  • The same analysis of the position of patents in time with respect to the year of emergence provides a means to analyze patent portfolios of individuals or organizations with respect to whether they are "leading" or "following" the commercial interest in the field.
  • Comparison of the tendency of organizations to be "leading" or "following," in specific areas in which they patent provides a metric of the novelty of their work in those areas.
  • Analysis of the spread of technology into new areas provides a means of identifying areas into which technologies may be most likely to move in the future.

The study was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and was conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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