zondag 17 juli 2011

Patent Darwinism and its use in patent evaluation

Please (re)read this very last paragraph of Darwins "On the origin of Species" [1]

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

So Darwins legal framework of evolution boils down to:
- 1. Growth with reproduction
- 2. Inheritance
- 3. Variability from direct and indirect action of the external conditions of life
- 4. Use and disuse
- 5. Natural selection and extinction of less-improved forms

All of this resulting in higher animals.

For the sake of fun, let us project these laws on those fields of technology that are captured in patents and patent applications around the world.

Well, in technology development, there is no (or at least not yet, or not that I know of) growth with reproduction. Though how wrong would it be, if we would assume that certain technology, citing earlier technology is considered its offspring, or its decendant? In that case, though slightly constructed, the first law can be accepted as being in force.

When we have this first assuption digested and accepted, the matter of inheritance almost follows immediately. That patent citing an older patent, i.e. the "state of the art" it automatically comprises a list of features similar to or the same as those features in the parent patent (no this is not relating to divisionals, continuations or continuations in part) and those features that are however slight distinct from the parent. Thus the second law can be accepted as being in force as well.

No doubt that in "patent offspring" variability exists, if no variability is there, no patentable matter would be present and no valid patent would have been resulted. Variability thus is a sheer obligation in patents by the nature of the patent system as such. Accordingly, this third law can be accepted to be in force as well.

Use and disuse, some features will be of great use and will in certain technology remain whilst others may not be very useful and will become obsolete and finally become extinct. This again is a law that applies in technology, although some superfluous features may be persistent, they finally will vanish. Concludingly, the fourth law may be accepted as being in force as well.

Natural selection and extinction of less improved forms, of that technology that is for some reason not accepted and not turned into value, will not be maintained, and not be furhrer developed. So even the fifth law can be considered as being in force.

One further aspect that is, in Darwins time less explicitly uttered and in my opinion of great importance and the driving force behind the whole evolution: the magical rewards for being successful. These rewards being the exploding orgasms in nature, that may -with some fantasy- very well be compared with the vast license income streams generated by winning technology.

Since the legal framework of Darwin actually is -slightly tweaked- in place in the field of patents and broader spoken in the field of technology, we must inevitably only find an evolution of technology similar to that in biology. Thus when a paleontology graph of technology would be drawn up, it is expected to be a striking look alike of the paleontology graphs of the 6 kingdoms of life. Although this technology-paleontology is neatly documented by the various patent offices in the IPC classification, I could not yet find any graphical representation of the classification tree...

Since these very principles of evolution appear to fit in nicely on the development of technology, in virtual all technical fields, this knowledge can be of use in spotting successful candidates in a relatively early stage of live. The successfull candidates are very likely to have -like in nature- an over time increasing "offspring", being an increasing number of citations, reflecting its increment of reproductive power. Poured in a formula, the increment of reproductive power can be seen as the time derivative of the total growth of  the sum of the number n of all citing generations i.

When investing in patent portfolio´s, this time dependent indicator might become a key factor and might become decisive in deciding on the valuable purchases. The vast documentation of technology to be found in patent databases, from which -after some proper data mining- the reproductive power increment can be deduced for each and every single patent, may thus help investors (and the inventors behind the high reproductive power patents) finding and purchasing the "fittest" patents. These "fittest" patents are most likely to result in the magical reward of vast licencing income for their inventors and investors, thus becoming the most likely to survive.  

Indeed, there is grandeur in this view of life!

PS: This view of technology being similar to evolution is already fantastically explained in a 2005 TED talk by Kevin Kelly [2]. In this presentation he suggests that technology is the very seventh kindom of life. Which, though far fetched, may be true. Darwins legal framework at least appears not to prohibit this view.

[1] C. Darwin, "The Origin of Species" (24-11-1859), Chapter 14, http://www.literature.org/authors/darwin-charles/the-origin-of-species/chapter-14.html

[2] K. Kelly, "How Technology Evolves" (02-2005),   http://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_kelly_on_how_technology_evolves.html