of grant, and patent family), they concluded ICT patents are more influential
than non-ICT patents because they receive significantly more citations and a
considerably higher PageRank.
When one publication (not just those
involving patents) is cited more often
than some other publication, the more-cited one is thus more influential. However, patent publications are unique
because they not only describe novel systems and methods but also hold commercial value and represent licensable
assets for their holders. A patent may be
cited hundreds of times yet still have relatively low financial value; on the other
hand, a patent may be cited only rarely
yet reflect enormous valuation.
Consider that in 2013, Kodak, the
company that invented the digital camera, sold its portfolio of 1, 100 digital
photography-related patents to multiple
licensees for $525 million (or $477.3K
per patent). Earlier, Google bought Motorola Mobility and its 17,000 patents
for $12.5 billion (or $735.3K per patent),
and Microsoft acquired 800 patents
from AOL for $1.06 billion (or $1.33M
per patent). Snap paid the exceptional
price of $7.7 million for Mobli’s Geo-filters patent, believed by TechCrunch
to be the highest amount ever paid for
a patent from an Israeli tech company.
However, the valuations of most patents are unknown until they are indeed
auctioned or sold off. For instance, ICT-related patents (such as those involving Google’s and Microsoft’s methods
for faster Internet browsing) 1 may have
impressive valuations, but those valuations are difficult to predict before actually being auctioned or sold off.
Considering non-ICT patents, the
revenue streams of several pharmaceutical companies depend on patents and
their corresponding expiration dates,
and one patent could be worth billions
over the course of its licensing period.
Notable patented medications include
Pfizer’s Lipitor (for lowering fatty acids
known as lipids), Bristol-Myers Squibb’s
Plavix (for preventing heart attacks and
strokes), and Teva’s Copaxone (for treating multiple sclerosis). Other non-ICT
patents that have significantly and directly improved people’s lives are cited
only rarely, including those related to
agriculture, transportation, and creation of new materials.
In the most recent U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office’s economy update, 2
the non-ICT “basic chemicals” category
ranked first, with $64.5 billion in mer-
chandise exports of selected intellectu-
al-property-intensive industries, while
“semiconductors and electronic com-
ponents” was second at $54.8 billion.
Most industries involve non-ICT tech-
nology. As for “patent intensity,” or the
ratio of patents to employees measured
as patents/thousand jobs, “computer
and peripheral equipment” and “com-
munications equipment” topped the
list, though this was due directly to the
relatively high number of patents issued
in the industry versus the industry’s rela-
tively low number of employees. Conclu-
sions regarding level of influence of ICT
technologies versus other types of tech-
nologies should thus be reported with
care when a comparison is based solely
on number of inventions and citations.
If such influence is indeed the basis for a comparison, then additional
covariates should be controlled for, including the mean estimated valuation
per patent, number of employees in the
industry, and additional financial and
1. Kartoun, U. A user, an interface, or none. Interactions 24, 1
(Jan.-Feb. 2017), 20–21.
2. U. S. Patent and Trademark Office. Intellectual Property
and the US Economy: 2016 Update. U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office, Washington, D.C., 2016; https://
Uri Kartoun, Cambridge, MA
Although there may be some correlation
between patent price and technological
influence, the relationship is neither clear nor
systematic. Patent prices are more likely driven
by how incremental/radical/breakthrough it is,
whether its value is standalone or as part of a
bundle, projected commercialization timescale,
cost versus risk, bidder’s experience, patent age,
rate of technological change, and substitution
and reverse-engineering risk, to say nothing
of broader economic factors. Perhaps our
technological-influence measure could thus
be used to help understand patent pricing.
Pantelis Koutroumpis, London, U.K.,
Aija Leiponen, Ithaca, NY, and
Llewellyn D W Thomas, London, U.K.
Communications welcomes your opinion. To submit a
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©2017 ACM 0001-0782/17/09
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