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Clustering the Power of IP

SparkIP links patent and inventor data to build rich, contextual search.

By Allison Proffitt

Feb. 1, 2008 | ‘A living, breathing map,” is how SparkIP CEO Ed Trimble describes it. The online company, founded in October, has launched a Beta version of an intellectual property network that presents information on some 3.5 million patents and 3,800 licensable technologies. These are displayed graphically in “SparkClusters,” akin to subway maps of connected areas of research with hubs and interchanges.

The company’s dataset includes information from the United States Patent Office (USPTO) dating back to the 1960s. “It’s the patented ideas, it’s in the inventors, it’s the innovations that are involved,” says Trimble. “We are actively adding new sets of information: patent applications, we’re looking at adding scientific journals, and scientific literature and kind of mashing that all together into these maps.”

SparkIP adds 3,000 new patents each week. All of the relationships are established via algorithms developed by the company, and the clusters are linked together with semantic analysis. Trimble says it provides a “giant map that covers everything from information technology to pharmaceuticals to sporting goods — all the innovation, the inventions that have led to the formation of these fields.”

While the clusters might be visually interesting, Trimble says that the information they contain is far more valuable than simple search results. People can “navigate into” the clusters and “find things that are specific to their search that they would find with a traditional search engine like a Google, but then find a landscape where they can find non-obvious results.”

Context is the SparkIP touchstone. Instead of keyword-driven searches that result in a “laundry list of things that aren’t ordered or prioritized,” SparkIP provides a level of additional “visual contextualization that says if you search on microfluidics, here are all the areas within microfluidics and you can see that visual and here’s how they connect.” Users can ask: “What do you want to drill down into? It’s a much more powerful tool for finding the information that you’re seeking.”

IP Marketplace
SparkIP’s business model doesn’t depend on being a better search engine. (When asked if he considers Google competition, Trimble laughs. “You know, I think everybody has to consider Google a competitor!”) SparkIP is currently the largest public marketplace for IP in the world. Within each map, licensable technologies are highlighted and for sale. SparkIP has already partnered with eight research institutions — Johns Hopkins, NIH, Duke, Georgia Tech, Stanford, North Carolina State, Tufts, and EPFL of Switzerland — and is talking to “many more.” Today, the site boasts 3,800 technologies in the marketplace.

The network is free while the company builds listings, which could last until spring. In the future, Trimble envisions several revenue streams, including, “fees for the marketplace, so listing fees for licensable technologies. Premium subscriber fees for research, so that will be more targeted toward industry, but we think some university and government labs will also pay those, probably site license fees to give those research tools to all their members,” explains Trimble. “We see a community forming around this.”

Free access to research won’t disappear once the subscriptions are in place. Trimble plans on keeping a public face of the website accessible to researchers, supported by advertising. “We think it’s important to keep parts of the site open and free.”


 This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.
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