Ever Heard of a Patent Map? They Can Help Predict the Future.

By presenting dense technical text in a simple visual format, patent maps can be efficient tools for reading a competitive landscape, preforming due diligence and even forecasting upcoming trends.

learn more about Laura Entis

By Laura Entis • Feb 2, 2014 Originally published Feb 2, 2014

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Success often means anticipating what's coming -- not just connecting the available dots, but accurately predicting where they will lead next.

By visually identifying hot spots for innovation as well as connections between industries, patent maps -- graphical models that provide visual representation of the areas in which companies are protecting intellectual property -- can help your business stay one step ahead of the curve.

Joseph Hadzima is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Mass., and president of IPVision Inc., a company that provides intellectual property analysis systems and services. The company also has developed its own system for mapping patents.

"We take patent citations and map them visually, which allows us to see the relationships between a particular patent and the prior patents it cites," he says. "When you draw up a map for a number of patents, you start to see patterns and trends that can help us with technology commercialization."

Related: Why Intellectual Property Allows You to Be An Entrepreneur

Hadzima frequently creates patent maps for small businesses that have received grants from the Small Business Innovation Research, a federal program that funds technology based startups. "It's an easy way for them to identify who is already in the competitive space -- potential partners, customers, perhaps a company that would want to acquire their business. Or is the area full of competitors?" Hadzima says. "A systematic walk through these patent maps helps teams refine their whole commercialization strategy and market entry strategy."

While information about most US patents is public and available online, the data can be incomprehensible for those without extensive technological knowledge. "Patent mapping allows us to take information that is locked in dense documents, and present it in a way where people can start seeing and talking about relationships," Hadzima says. "These visualizations unlock a lot of previously unavailable information."

Amy Rae, a principal at Vanedge Capital, a venture capital fund based in Vancouver, Canada that focuses on investments in interactive entertainment and digital media businesses, likes patent maps for this very reason. She's often tasked with performing due diligence on companies Vanedge is seriously considering investing in but she doesn't have a technical background.

Instead of wading through block after block of cryptic, highly technical text, Rae is able to get an overview of a company's patent portfolio in an intuitive visual format, which gives her a good idea of how business see itself: "Where do they think their knowledge base is? Where do they think their strengths lie, and how do they think about growing their business?"

Related: Google Sells Motorola at a Major Loss, But Keeps What It Really Wanted All Along

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of a well-drawn patent map is its predictive potential. It's possible to play detective, using intellectual property filings to anticipate how a particular company plans to diversify or predict an overarching trend before it breaks. For example, when mapping patents from 2001 to 2006, Jan Youtie, a researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology, noticed that Samsung had noticeably more patents in the biomedical realm than other companies with similar portfolios.

"That made me to wonder: what are they up to?" she says. (In 2011, Samsung announced plans to move into the biomedical business, producing drugs for cancer and arthritis patients at a plant in Seoul).

Mobile device companies can especially benefit from using patent maps, Hadzima says, but so can venture capital firms, investment banks and businesses in the hardware, software, materials and biotech space.

At IPVision's website, see-the-forest.com, users can create individual patent landscape maps, which show the citation references to and from a single patent), as well as patent interconnection maps for up to 100 patents.The ability to create more complex maps, along with access to additional analytic tools, is available for a $250 per month subscription fee. Larger projects can cost anywhere up to $100,000.

Related: Despite Long, Litigious Past, Samsung and Google Announce 10 Year Cross-Licensing Agreement

Laura Entis
Laura Entis is a reporter for Fortune.com's Venture section.

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

This Co-Founder Was Kicked Out of Retailers for Pitching a 'Taboo' Beauty Product. Now, Her Multi-Million-Dollar Company Sells It for More Than $20 an Ounce.
Have You Ever Obsessed Over 'What If'? According to Scientists, You Don't Actually Know What Would Have Fixed Everything.
Most People Don't Know These 2 Things Are Resume Red Flags. A Career Expert Reveals How to Work Around Them.
Business News

Massive Fire At Top Egg Farm Leaves Estimated 100,000 Hens Dead. What Does This Mean For Egg Prices?

Hillandale Farms in Bozrah, Connecticut went up in flames on Saturday in an incident that is still under investigation.

Business News

These Two Cars Are Stolen So Often Insurance Won't Cover Them

Progressive and State Farm have dropped some older Hyundai and Kia models after learning that a design flaw makes them easy to start without a key.

Business Solutions

5 Procurement Trends To Keep on Your Radar for 2023

Procurement professionals must adapt to inflation and a shortage of skilled labor in the face of an economic recession. Investing in a workforce paired with retraining and development strategies will put your company on top amid economic uncertainty.

Business News

Out With the Kibble and In With the Steak. The World's Richest Dog Has a Net Worth of $400 Million – And a New Netflix Docuseries Too

'Gunther's Millions' is set to unpack the pooch's mysterious fortune and what those around him have done with his inheritance.

Business News

'This Culture Of Secrecy Is Not Okay': Former Apple Employee Celebrates NLRB Decision That It Violated Worker Rights

Ashley Gjøvik complained Tim Cook violated worker rights by telling employees not to speak to the media.