Extracting and analysing data from patent documents has become a common research method used by business, government and academics to identify trends in technology fields over time, across jurisdictions, and over other dimensions. This process, patent landscaping, is increasingly popular, resulting in a proliferation of techniques and applications aimed at answering a wide range of strategic, technical, legal, and economic questions.
While landscaping is increasingly popular in a variety of research fields, not all landscapers take advantage of methods that appropriately suit their research questions or align with the pragmatic constraints they face. Moreover, landscapers often draw conclusions without sufficiently disclosing or verifying their methodological choices. Heterogeneity in the reasons “why” and “how” patent analysis is applied undermines the effectiveness of the analysis by limiting the opportunity for validation and comparison and creating the potential for misunderstanding and misuse when making strategic and operational decisions.
Patent landscapers would benefit from more harmonised and consistent approaches. While the complex nature of different technological fields necessitates flexibility when crafting research strategies, landscapers should understand the competing methodological choices at their disposal and be aware of the inherent pragmatic strengths and weaknesses of those choices. There are common steps in all patent landscape methodologies and understanding the inherent methodological tradeoffs at each step of the process will result in a more systematised and validated approach to landscaping.
E Richard Gold is a James McGill Professor at the Faculty of Law at McGill University who studies innovation systems, comparative patent law and empirical methods to track these in the life sciences. He has provided advice to various Canadian governments and international organizations (eg OECD, WIPO, WHO, UNITAID) on patent law and policy, innovation and collaborative structures.
Andrew Baker is a BCL/LLB student at the Faculty of Law at McGill University where he currently conducts research on patent landscape methodologies. He previously worked as a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan Department of Bioresource Policy, Business & Economics in the fields of intellectual property, extra-contractual liability, and regulatory policy in agricultural biotechnology.
© 2011 Journal of Law, Information & Science and Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania.