High-quality patent databases are so commonplace on the web these days it's hard to get excited about yet another offering. Sure... there's always room for improvement, but how many patent databases does the world really need? Apparently, it does.
Spark-IP was launched last October as an "eBay" for intellectual property owners to advertise their inventions and technologies available for licensing. The beta site is currently freely available for anyone to use, but some services and advanced functions will eventually be priced. The site is open to listings from universities, corporations and government agencies, but soon anyone will be able to post a technology for a fee.
At the heart of Spark-IP is a searchable database containing four million U.S. patents and published applications. This data is augmented by technology listings submitted by registered users. Users can search by keyword in title, abstract, full text, or claims; inventor, assignee and patent number.
What's interesting about Spark*IP is that it presents search results as technology landscape maps called SparkClusters. These maps are constructed by algorithms that group related patents and technology listings into discrete groups. There are about 40,000 Sparkclusters now, but this will change as new technologies emerge and evolve. Another type of map is the SparkCluster Neighborhoods, which display the total population of a landscape cluster, rather than just the technology retrieved in by a keyword search.
Figure 1. A SparkCluster map for OLED technology. The darker the colour of the cluster, the greater its cumulative keyword strength. Green halos around a cluster indicates indicate the presence of one or more technology listings.
I'm the librarian for research services in the Engineering and Science Library at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. I've been working with patent information since 1991, including seven years at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I believe that the dissemination of patent information is a public good and should be promoted, especially in the education of science and engineering students.