Way Better Patents publishes the top inventions by domain each week to create the Way Better Patents Box Scores. Each week patterns emerged. The technologies of informationization — computers, networking, business methods and data management inventions — dominated the weekly results. We wanted to see what the trends were for the year and how the top ten inventions shook out for the entire year. Here we assembled the top ten technologies using the US Patent Classification (USPC) Class designation of the original, or main, classification on a patent by major domain.
In 2013, 277,852 utility patents were granted by USPTO. Way Better Patents looked at the utility patent granted in 2013 to find the top ten technologies for the year. The top 10 technologies across all utility patents granted accounted for 65,151 or 23 percent (23%) of all utility patents. Like we do with the weekly box scores, the annual count of patent grants is subdivided into three subdomains: the electrical (), mechanical (), and chemical () domains. Looking at the total, electrical (), mechanical (), and chemical () domain patent grants contributed 55%, 26%, and 19% of the total respectively. The art in the mechanical () domain did not make the top ten classes in 2013.
The Top Ten
|370: MULTIPLEX COMMUNICATIONS||9,240|
|257: ACTIVE SOLID-STATE DEVICES (E.G., TRANSISTORS, SOLID-STATE DIODES)||8,509|
|514: DRUG, BIO-AFFECTING AND BODY TREATING COMPOSITIONS||6,325|
|705: DATA PROCESSING: FINANCIAL, BUSINESS PRACTICE, MANAGEMENT, OR COST/PRICE DETERMINATION||5,890|
|345: COMPUTER GRAPHICS PROCESSING AND SELECTIVE VISUAL DISPLAY SYSTEMS||5,839|
|438: SEMICONDUCTOR DEVICE MANUFACTURING: PROCESS||5,550|
|709: ELECTRICAL COMPUTERS AND DIGITAL PROCESSING SYSTEMS: MULTICOMPUTER DATA TRANSFERRING||5,355|
|382: IMAGE ANALYSIS||5,137|
|707: DATA PROCESSING: DATABASE AND FILE MANAGEMENT OR DATA STRUCTURES||5,091|
We consider the top five 2013 utility patent technologies in this article; in Part 2 we’ll look at the remaining five.
The First Five
Electrical domain patents represent eight of the top 10 broad utility technologies granted in the United States last year. Chemical technologies make up the other two technology groups.
#1 — multiplex communications
Multiplex communications received 9,240 patents last year. Part of the USPTO’s definition of this group of technologies is:
The distinction between multiplexing and selective or telemetry is: in multiplexing, the information is unrestricted as to content, e.g., a teletype-writer which uses an alphabet to transmit unlimited information, whereas in selective or telemetry devices, the information is restricted as to content, e.g., a transducer measuring a single parameter.
[Editor’s note: The group of technologies considered by USPTO to be ‘multiplex communications’ was brought together in 1980, and the reference in the class definition to ‘teletype-writer’ limited to using ‘an alphabet’ is telling and symptomatic of the difficulties USPTO has had through the years in keeping the US Patent Classification System up-to-date with the steadily increasing pace of technological change. Several years ago USPTO, following an extended period of negotiations with the European Patent Office, announced that the venerable USPC will be retired at the beginning of next year and become a completely static collection of prior art. One of the USPTO’s selling points about the new Cooperative Patent Classification System is that because it is much more granular, it will be easier for USPTO and the EPO to constantly update the system with new or modified technology classifications. Time will tell.]
Perhaps a better way to understand the nature of inventions in this group is to consider a representative patent. The most common type of specific technology within this broad space pertains to “multiplex communication over free space having a plurality of contiguous regions served by respective fixed stations using channel assignment”, in USPTO parlance. In other words, assigning a channel in a cell phone network to a caller. QUALCOMM was assigned the most patents in this group last year — 630. US 8,619,684 issued on December 31, and provides a “Method and apparatus for downlink data arrival.” It “generate[s] messages for wireless communications. The method includes encapsulating a first message protocol within the framework of a second message protocol and generating a message from the first message protocol and the second message protocol. The method transmits the first message protocol to an allocation space designated for the second message protocol.”
#2 — active solid-state devices
Active solid-state devices received 8,509 patents. They are “… electronic devices or components that are made up primarily of solid materials, usually semiconductors, which operate by the movement of charge carriers - electrons or holes - which undergo energy level changes within the material and can modify an input voltage to achieve rectification, amplification, or switching action …” and include diodes, transistors, and thyristors among other devices. In this innovation space, the specific technology receiving the most patents last year (451) is an “incoherent light emitter structure with a reflector, opaque mask, or optical element (e.g., lens, optical fiber, index of refraction matching layer, luminescent material layer, filter) integral with [the] device or device enclosure or package.”
Or, light emitting diodes (LEDs).
LG received the most patents (79) in this group. Their patent US 8,618,571 is typical of these technologies. “Semiconductor light emitting device having a reflective layer” discloses,
“a semiconductor light emitting device. The semiconductor light emitting device comprises a light emitting structure including a first conductive semiconductor layer, a second conductive semiconductor layer, and an active; an electrode on a first region of the first conductive semiconductor layer; a conductive support member under the light emitting structure; a metal layer between the light emitting structure and the conductive support member; and a reflective layer between the metal layer and the light emitting structure, wherein the metal layer is physically contacted with a lower surface of the reflective layer, wherein the reflective layer includes a first layer and a second layer, wherein the first layer has a different material from the second layer, wherein the metal layer has a protrusion, wherein the first conductive semiconductor layer includes a roughness.”
The patent improves reflection characteristics of the reflective layer, thus improving the efficiency of the LED.
#3 — telecommunications
The third most frequent utility patent technology was telecommunications, with 8,215 patents granted. This is a catch-all area “for modulated carrier wave communications” not classifiable elsewhere. QUALCOMM received the most patents (34) in the most prevalent specific technology in this area — a radiotelephone system that provides zoned or cellular telephone service using location monitoring. And what might location monitoring of your cell phone be used for?
US 8,606,293, granted to QUALCOMM on December 10, 2013, “Mobile device location estimation using environmental information”, explains:
“Estimating a location of a mobile device is performed by comparing environmental information, such as environmental sound, associated with the mobile device with that of other devices to determine if the environmental information is similar enough to conclude that the mobile device is in a comparable location as another device. The devices may be in comparable locations in that they are in geographically similar locations (e.g., same store, same street, same city, etc.). The devices may be in comparable locations even though they are located in geographically dissimilar locations because the environmental information of the two locations demonstrates that the devices are in the same perceived location. With knowledge that the devices are in comparable locations, and with knowledge of the location of one of the devices, certain actions, such as targeted advertising, may be taken with respect to another device that is within a comparable location.”
Targeted advertising, that’s the intent of this patent. Curiously, the patent’s claim 6 provides for:
“determining the first location based on the comparison of the first environmental sound information with the environmental sound data; and sending data to the first device in response to determining the first location, wherein the data is at least one of a coupon associated with a store within geographical proximity of the first location, an advertisement associated with the store, an advertisement associated with a competitor of the store, and a coupon associated with the competitor.”
Other claims also refer to advertising and coupons — both of which are included in business methods technology (the US Patent Classifications System’s Class 705). Class 705 was not searched by the examiner to determine if there is prior art in that innovation space that might be related to this patent, nor were any class 705 cross-reference classifications placed on this patent. Even more curiously, the first two listed Cooperative Patent Classification system (CPC) codes are in G06Q — the business methods area of the new international classification scheme. The first one is for targeted advertising based on user location, and the second is for targeted advertising using wireless devices. Thus, for this particular patent, there is a complete mis-match between the central technology as defined by the current (and scheduled to be dropped at the beginning of 2015) US patent classification system and the new CPC system. We have seen other instances of this type of major difference in the core technology identified for the same patent as classified in both systems. These mis-matches are likely to play havoc with future prior art searches, and lead to a situation where prior art cannot be found by searchers.
The USPTO examiner failing to search class 705 within the classification system he currently uses is troubling, but perhaps more so is why this patent falls into two completely different technology spaces in the USPC vs. CPC systems. Another selling point used by USPTO was that the CPC would ‘harmonize’ the USPC and ECLA (the former European classification system upon which the CPC is based), however, differences like the one for the ’293 patent are not harmonious — they are discordant.
#4 — drugs and body treatment
A chemistry domain technology comes in at fourth-place (6,325 patents) in last year’s utility patent grants. This area, Drug, Bio-Affecting and Body Treatment Compositions, is actually completely within a broader technological space of the same name (the Class 514 definition states: “Class 514 is an integral part of Class 424. It incorporates all the definitions and rules as to subject matter of Class 424.”) The definition of the contents of this very broad space is too long to include here; we refer you to the USPTO’s definition.
The specific technology receiving the most patents last year in this drug-related area is a designated organic active ingredient (DOAI) containing a carbohydrate (i.e., saccharide radical containing) DOAI which is an N-glycoside with a nitrogen containing hetero ring of polynucleotide (e.g., RNA, DNA, etc.) material which provides antisense or RNA interference.
“Antisense?” Antisense pharmaceutical therapy treats genetic disorders or infections. If the genetic code of a particular gene is known to cause a specific disease, then a strand of nucleic acid (e.g., DNA, RNA) can be synthesized that will bind to the messenger RNA (mRNA) produced by the gene and inactivate it — the antisense compound acts as a switch to turn the expression of that gene from ‘on’ to ‘off.’ The compounds are called ‘antisense’ because their sequence of nucleotides (the basic compounds that chemically form DNA and RNA, and provide the famous double-helix structure of DNA. Remember Crick and Watson?) complements that of a gene’s messenger RNA, which is called the ‘sense’ sequence. Research continues on using antisense compounds to treat various cancers, diabetes, amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’), muscular dystrophy, asthma, and arthritis, among others.
Isis Pharmaceuticals was assigned the most patents (12) in this group of therapeutic agents. In addition to patenting antisense compounds, they received US 8,389,488 on March 5, 2013 for “Antidotes to antisense compounds.” As stated in the patent’s abstract, “Such antidote compounds reduce the magnitude and/or duration of the antisense activity of an antisense compound.” According to the various embodiments provided by Isis, the antisense antidotes will target blood factors encoded by mRNA, proteins involved in diabetes, heart disease, nerve cells, the liver, and the kidneys.
#5 — business methods
Business methods patents found in the US Patent Classification System’s Class 705 received 5,890 patents last year, earning them the fifth-place slot in overall utility patent grants. Within the business methods space, patents for an automated electrical financial or business practice or management arrangement in the finance (e.g., banking, investment or credit) area directed to trading, matching, or bidding were the most frequent grants (427). Inventions in this area pertain to “the trading or exchange of securities or commodities within an organized system … includ[ing] distribution of services or products (e.g., utilities, heating, etc.) in a building by an ‘auction’ or bidding system.”
Trading Technologies International, Inc. received the most patents (71) of any assignee in this trading, matching, or bidding area. US 8,612,333, granted December 17, 2013, provides “Click based trading with intuitive grid display of market depth and price consolidation.” Their invention “reduc[es] the time it takes for a trader to place a trade when electronically trading on an exchange, thus increasing the likelihood that the trader will have orders filled at desirable prices and quantities. The price consolidation feature of the present invention, as described herein, enables a trader to consolidate a number of prices in order to condense the display. Such action allows a trader to view a greater range of prices and a greater number of orders in the market at any given time. By consolidating prices, and therefore orders, a trader reduces the risk of a favorable order scrolling from the screen prior to filling a bid or ask on that order at a favorable price.”
Quite interesting, in light of our recent article on ‘How to Read a Patent’ and its reference to the Amazon single action ordering system, are this ’333 patent’s claims 4, 6–8 and 15, 17–19. Claim 4 states:
"4. The method of claim 1, further comprising: displaying an order entry region comprising a plurality of locations, each location in the order entry region for receiving a command to send a trade order to the electronic exchange, each location being aligned with a corresponding price level of the plurality of consolidated price levels and each location being selectable by a user input device, the order entry region being configured such that selection of one of the plurality of locations is a command to send a trade order to the electronic exchange based on a price level within a range of price levels of a consolidated price level that is associated with the selected location.
That claim provides an on-screen order area with multiple locations showing different price levels. Selection of one of those areas places an order.
6. The method of claim 4, wherein the command consists of a single action command from the user input device.
7. The method of claim 6, wherein the single action command consists of a single click of the user input device.
8. The method of claim 6, wherein the single action command consists of a double click of the user input device.
A single click places the order. Sounds familiar. Amazon’s US 5,960,411 ‘one-click’ patent, one of the seminal patents in electronic commerce, is listed as prior art on this ’333 patent.
Electrical innovations took four of the top five US utility patent broad technology areas last year. These technologies deal with cell phone communications, solid state devices (e.g., LED lights), telecommunications, and business methods, key components of the informationization of innovation and the driver of the innovation economy. Pharmaceutical inventions were also in the top five technologies.
In the next article in this series we’ll complete the top five utility patent technologies.
A Bit of Patent Geekery
Classification Box Notes are a bit of patent geekery known by patent analysts and researchers but generally not known by mere mortals that seek to find patents and prior art. A box note is an innocuous looking phrase at the beginning of the definition of a patent classification that says, "this is a an integral part of that" — "Class 600 is an integral part of Class 128". The US Patent Classification System (USPC) uses this convention when the number of patent assigned to a particular class explodes and becomes unmanageable. USPTO creates another class and puts the new stuff there. The box note basically informs the reader that if you are looking for prior art in this class, or within a certain class/subclass pair, that the rest of the patents and patent applications you need to look at can be found in another class. To use the Box Note effectively you also need to understand the concept of the indent within the USPC so you can understand exactly where the classes converge.
You'll find box notes in several key classes that have seen very large growth like Surgery which includes Class 128 plus 600, 601, 602, 604, 606 and 607; or Drug, Bio-Affecting and Body Treating Compositions which is covered by 424 and 514 Class 514 is an integral part of Class 424. It incorporates all the definitions and rules as to subject matter of Class 424.; or Organic Chemistry where there are many permutations.
Accounting for box notes can change the patent count calculus. When you look at the USPTO E-Gazette, it reports each class separately. There is also no guarantee that all of the art classified in one of the classes described in a box note is going to wind up in the same Group Art Unit, the group of patent examiners responsible for examining patent applications containing a particular classification. Injecting this bit of patent geekery into the box scores adds a level of intellectual vertigo that is contrary to our desire to make patents easier to understand. So we made a command decision not to torture our users with it. (We do includes this geekery in our custom patent analytics.) As a rule, we don't adjust USPTO's numbers to account for the impact of box notes when creating our score cards and boxscores.
In the interest of illuminating what was happening in the patentsphere in 2013 please note if you add both classes that cover Drug, Bio-Affecting and Body Treating Compositions together (424 and 514) they would represent the top class of inventions in 2013. The acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) can be found in Class 560/143.