What Is a Patent Map?

Terry Masters

A patent map is a visual representation of the outstanding patents in a particular technology field. It is an analysis that depicts the areas within the field that are available for future innovation and prevents accidental infringement of areas already covered by existing patents. This map can be generated from a national or international perspective of intellectual property rights.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Patenting inventions makes it possible for companies to invest resources into research and development. The exclusive right to profit from a patent for a length of time enables the inventor to recoup the upfront investment needed to bring the invention to fruition, which can often be quite substantial. Research and development can take years, and the pace of technological advancement often exceeds expectations. It has become increasingly important for companies to identify worthwhile areas for innovation before major investments of time and resources are made.

A company produces a patent map to visually depict the innovation landscape of a particular technology field. It is not merely an identification of patentable areas, but is actually an analysis of opportunities that exist at the current time and in the future. This type of map enables a company to seize areas of innovation, identify possibilities for partnership with holders of existing patents, and stay out of infringement trouble.

The value of a patent map to enable a company to avoid infringement is perhaps its most important use. Patent applications are numerous, and the time it takes for patent approval to be awarded makes it difficult to keep up with changes to existing rights across fields. The globalization of markets has also made patent litigation a particularly expensive proposition, including the frequent need to defend rights across international borders. Innocently arriving at a similar technological process as one that is already patented can cause catastrophic harm to a company, particularly if the product that is using the infringing patent is already in production.

Patent maps have become so important in the quickly evolving technology industry that the patent offices of certain governments have begun publishing maps of specific fields as a public service. Since 1997, Japan’s Patent and Trademark Office has been producing patent maps for public use that combine the Japan and U.S. rights landscapes. This is of particular help to individuals and small companies because a patent map can be costly to research and produce, often requiring the aid of outside consultants who specialize in patent analysis.

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