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.
Utility Patents 2013
In the first article in this series we looked at some overall metrics of US patents in 2013. The second article reviewed the top five technologies across all utility patents last year. This time we consider the second half of the top 10 inventions for the year the 6th - 10th utility patent slots.
But first the list of the top ten invention classes.
|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|
#6 — computer graphics
An electrical domain group of technologies comprise the sixth-rank in the 2013 utility patent grants. Computer graphics processing and selective visual display systems received 5,839 patents. The most prevalent art in this category is display peripheral interface input devices using a touch panel. Not surprisingly, Apple received the most patents of any single assignee in this group (95). US 8,610,674, “Programmable tactile touch screen displays and man-machine interfaces for improved vehicle instrumentation and telematics,” representative of the inventions in this space, sees Apple moving into your vehicle and home automation systems:
“Disclosed are new methods and apparatus particularly suited for applications in a vehicle, to provide a wide range of information, and the safe input of data to a computer controlling the vehicle subsystems or ‘Telematic’ communication using for example GM’s ‘ONSTAR’ or cellular based data sources. Preferred embodiments utilize new programmable forms of tactile touch screens and displays employing tactile physical selection or adjustment means which utilize direct optical data input. A revolutionary form of dashboard or instrument panel results which is stylistically attractive, lower in cost, customizable by the user, programmable in both the tactile and visual sense, and with the potential of enhancing interior safety and vehicle operation. Non-automotive applications of the invention are also disclosed, for example means for general computer input using touch screens and home automation systems.”
#7 — semiconductor manufacturing
In seventh place is a body of chemical technology. The progress seen in semiconductor manufacturing over the past decades is directly responsible for our increasingly electronics-based society. The Latin phrase for it is sine qua non — ‘without which, nothing’ (or ‘not’, for the purists).
Within these processes, bonding of plural semiconductor substrates with subsequent separation into plural bodies (e.g., delaminating, dicing, etc.) are the most prevalent technology (83 patents) by a slight margin. Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co., Ltd. received 23 patents in this group, the most for a single assignee. Their patent US 8,343,849, granted on January 1, 2013, is typical of the type of technology in the semiconductor manufacturing space. A “Method for manufacturing SOI substrate”
“provide[s] a technical means which is capable of increasing crystallinity and planarity of a single crystal semiconductor layer, crystal defects are reduced in such a manner that a single crystal semiconductor substrate, in which an insulating film is formed on its surface and an embrittlement region is formed in a region at a predetermined depth from the surface, and a supporting substrate are attached to each other with the insulating film interposed therebetween; the single crystal semiconductor substrate is separated in the embrittlement region by a heat treatment; a single crystal semiconductor layer is irradiated with laser light over the supporting substrate with the insulating film interposed therebetween; a surface of the single crystal semiconductor layer is etched; and a plasma treatment is performed on the surface of the single crystal semiconductor layer.”
‘SOI’ refers to “a silicon-on-insulator (SOI) substrate”. Their advantage over a bulk silicon wafer? “… integrated circuits using a silicon-on-insulator (SOI) substrate where a thin single crystal semiconductor film is present on an insulating surface [reduces] parasitic capacitance between a drain of a transistor and a substrate … the SOI substrate … improves performance of semiconductor integrated circuits.”
#8 — multicomputer data transfer
The eighth-most common technology within last year’s utility patents is electrical computers and digital processing systems, multicomputer data transferring (5,355 grants). In other words, computer networking.
The most prevalent specific technology in this area was computer conferencing that provides demand based messaging. USPTO uses the specific example of email to describe this body of art.
IBM received 83 patents in this technology domain. US 8,601,080, issued December 3, 2013, provides for “Sharing email.” This sharing invention requires that a “trust relationship may be established between a first email user and at least a second email user. At least one email message received by the second user is automatically propagated to the first user based upon, at least in part, the trust relationship.”
#9 — image analysis
Technologies found here include those that provide for the automated analysis of an image or recognition of a pattern, including transforming an image and automated document pattern analysis or verification. Image analysis accounted for 5,137 patents. The most prevalent type of invention found in this category last year is biomedical applications, which received 369 patents.
Siemens was the leading assignee in medical image analysis, with 68 patent grants. US 8,526,691, “System and method for passive medical device navigation under real-time MRI guidance,” was granted on September 3, 2013. It provides a
“method for tracking a needle along a path under real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) guidance includes extracting a candidate needle artifact region from a plurality of incoming MR images of a needle inside biological tissue, determining an initial needle direction vector from the candidate needle artifact region in each of the plurality of incoming needle images, determining an initial needle base point from an intersection of the needle direction vector with a first incoming needle image, and an initial needle tip point from an intersection of the needle direction vector with a last incoming needle image, and tracking said needle by minimizing a cost function of the initial base point and initial direction vector to calculate an updated base point and updated direction vector. The updated base point and direction vector are used to visualize the advance of the needle along the path through the biological tissue.”
By accurately tracking and precisely navigating a needle to a target location within a patient’s body (for acquiring a tissue sample with a biopsy needle or to place radioactive seeds for lung therapy, for example) using a real-time Magnetic Resonance Imaging system to visualize the device and surrounding anatomy, the time required for such invasive procedures can be reduced and additional anatomical data can be provided to the physician.
An earlier article Turn Right In 3.0mm At The...Aorta? on Stephane Lavallee's invention, US 8,611,985, is titled "Method and device for navigation of a surgical tool"; granted December 17, 2013 discusses another aspect of this type of invention. This invention received a primary classification in surgery and other classifications in image analysis.
#10 — database and file management
Rounding out the top 10 utility patent technology areas for 2013 is a body of data processing technologies dealing with database and file management or data structures, with 5,091 grants last year. Two specific technology areas tied for the most prevalent in the broad database space at 195 patents each.
One of these is database and file access using search engines, and unsurprisingly, Google was the lead assignee with 32 patents. Google’s US 8,612,411 patent titled “Clustering documents using citation patterns,” represents this body of art. Granted on December 17, 2013, it provides:
“Systems and methods for clustering documents, such as for scientific documents, taking into account the citation patterns of the documents are disclosed. In one embodiment, the method includes locating citations to other documents, e.g., search result documents, comparing each pair of documents to be clustered for overlapping citations in a first, a more specific second, and an even more specific optional third citation generality, and determining clusters of related documents based on the comparisons. The levels of generalities may be, for example, document-, paragraph-, and/or citation-level generalities. The locating may locate only citations to the other documents to be clustered. The clusters may be determined based on a weighted score of the amount of overlapping citations in the various generalities and/or by performing factor analysis using the comparison results. The clusters may be ranked to determine the dominant clusters.”
This patent addresses issues in both scientific and technical research and intellectual property. Creating a citation matrix is one of the critical elements of building a complete picture of prior art and establishing freedom to operate for new products in patent intense industries.
The second technology area is database and file access for record, file, and data search and comparisons using database query processing. IBM was the top assignee for these patents, receiving 23. IBM’s US 8,412,731 patent, “File management method and system,” issued on April 2, 2013. It
“provides a file management method and system for managing file retrieval and access. The method operates at the operating system level within a file system of a computer device and allows creating file move links upon detection of a file move request. The file move link associates the file source location with the file target location and is stored within a file move link table of the file system for subsequent file access request. File path to target location is automatically retrieved and file reached transparently for the user.”
The invention improves upon conventional file-naming and path storage systems that must be updated either manually or automatically when computer files are renamed or moved by establishing a database of file move requests, allowing the computer user to transparently access any file on the system regardless of the number of times it might have been moved or renamed.
The second five of the top ten invention domains for 2013's utility patent technologies also consist of four electrical domain technologies, and one chemical domain, as was the case with the top five technologies. Computer graphics, network data exchange, image analysis, and database/file management were found in this group, as was a single broad chemical technology, semiconductor manufacturing.
None of the other electrical-related technologies on the top 10 2013 US utility patents list would be available to us were it not for the advances in semiconductor manufacturing. Of course, one could argue that advances in semiconductor manufacturing would not have been possible without the benefits of the very technology they produce.
Agreed. Technological advances occur in a symbiotic relationship, moving many technologies forward at the same time, but not necessarily at the same pace. Consider where we would be without the advances in semiconductor design and manufacturing over the past 50 and more years.
- desktop, laptop, or tablet computers as we know them today
- cell phones
- ATMs & in-store card scanners
- one-click internet retailers
- iTunes or other online media providers
- automobile computer diagnostics & self-serve gas stations
- MRIs, CAT or PET scans
- Internet, email, or bulletin boards (remember them?)
- Electronic patent records, online access to them, or e-filing
- No tax preparation software.
We’d still be using 8mm home movies, 35mm slides, vinyl records, cathode-ray TVs, the family physician, the local gas station service attendant, analog guitar effects (Echoplex and all-tube amps, anyone?), USPTO ‘shoes’ to house the paper records of each patent case, and multi-room-sized computers that performed the calculations needed to send US astronauts to the Moon and back — many of those old mainframes are now far surpassed by the computing power in your phone.
The upside? We’d still have the smells, sounds, and excitement — and life wouldn’t move quite so fast. And we wouldn’t blow a cork when the bank teller (remember them?) says, “I’m sorry, the computers are down,” or when the medical practice increasingly says “I’m sorry, we don’t have you in the system.”