Taming Patent White Space Analysis – A Guide for IP Owners

Patent White Space Analysis

White space analysis is a process to identify gaps in the patent landscape that can lead to potential opportunities for your IP strategy. These gaps can correspond to either new inventions that can strengthen your existing technology portfolio, or opportunities to block others from using the same technology. White space analysis helps identify possible opportunities before your competitors and achieve competitive advantage

Why should you conduct white space analysis?

Two main reasons that drive users to carry out a white space analysis include:

  1. Expansion into new technology areas – Finding new areas for innovation and exclusivity that help enhance the existing technology-patent portfolio. This type of white space analysis is externally focused. You analyze new technology areas with the aim of expanding your presence in them. The aim here is to find these gaps that can benefit from your existing technologies and leverage them before others.
  2. Identify gaps in your existing technology space – Internally focused mapping includes looking at your existing technology space and mapping your current IP against a Problem-vs-Solutions Matrix. The problems and solutions are specific to the technology and multiple vantage points can be taken. This analysis helps in finding adjacent or ancillary opportunities that you can also be pursuing. Mapping your company’s existing strengths against the established set of technology challenges in a given space helps find new revenue generating options or broaden the scope of existing patent portfolios (by locating areas around your patent positions that should be included in your claim coverage).

Who uses white space analysis?

This type of analysis can benefit both – those who already have an IP portfolio or those who are working on building an IP portfolio around their idea. Practicing entities already having products in the market and even non-practicing entities (NPE) use white space analysis since both have active IP portfolios. The table below enlists particular uses of white space analysis based on the user type:

Users Use of white space analysis
Companies with active products and IP portfolios Find associated technology areas for existing product
Find processes that act as work around method for existing product
Find complementary application areas (same technology used for another product)
Identify opportunity to expand technology area and enter new market
Startups working on an idea and building an active IP portfolio Find complementary use cases and build a more robust patent fence around your core idea
Non-Practicing Entities Find new licensing areas for your IP
Cover gaps in the existing portfolio to prevent workarounds
Build strong IP fence by including related technologies in order to block others effectively
Find complementary application areas for existing technologies

Let’s now take a look at the steps involved in white space analysis:

Look within your business to identify technology areas to pursue

Look at your company and market data such as currently available products to identify any areas containing potential opportunities. By comparing the products, services already used by the customer and other products and services the company can provide, you can find areas where opportunities can be explored. Knowing the core technological capabilities, strengths and weaknesses of your company goes a long way in deciding the chosen areas for white space analysis.

For example, if you were a company making 3D printers some of the areas to look into would be – printing technologies, 3D printing materials, application areas for 3D printing and so on.

Analysis of the shortlisted technology areas

For the chosen area (for e.g. material/technology/application area of 3D printing) you will need expert advice to decide if it makes business sense in doing a white space analysis within them. Post that, analyze the area by trying to find answers to questions like- what are the different market areas, what are the top challenges in the market, what are the current product or technologies that address the challenges, what technologies are our strengths, what are current and future markets for the technology etc. Each question corresponds to a unique perspective around which you will create categories(buckets). For a chosen perspective (e.g key problems in 3d printing materials) make a list of all the known problems (you can take help of R&D/Inventor too) and this will lead to the exact categories/buckets around which you will be map the existing prior-art.

Source: II-PIC 2017: Decoding the Gray Shades of Patent White Space Analysis

Do a patent landscape search against the chosen perspective (top-level category)

Once your area of research is clear and top-level categories are clear, create a broad search strategy including all possible aspects. Carry out a broad search to include all associated technologies that have supportive applications to your business. Create search query based on all possible keywords related to the categories.

Mapping of patents to each sub-category.

Retrieve the patent data set and using a combination of manual review or precision sub-searching you can map the overall dataset to individual sub-categories. This procedure is also called as bucketing patents into these categories.

Most effective gap analysis tend to somewhat align against a Problems vs. Solution categorization

Source: II-PIC 2017: Decoding the Gray Shades of Patent White Space Analysis

For example – if the challenge for 3d printed objects is “surface finish”, solutions can range across 3d printed technologies or materials.

Such mapping exercise will help you find the right combinations of Problems vs Solutions and thereby increase the chances of finding a promising white-space for your existing technologies. The process can also yield work around methods around your existing IP

Narrowing down the gaps (and hotspots!)

Generate co-occurrence matrices (with heatmaps) against the carefully chosen categories. Such heatmap plots can visually lead you to the gaps and hotspots. For e.g. in 3D printing, when a matrix of material vs applications was plotted, a potential white space for use of polyurethane in 3D printed shoes was identified.

Source: II-PIC 2017: Decoding the Gray Shades of Patent White Space Analysis

Such matrix-based analysis can be used to dig deeper and for generating tables like categories vs. company / filing date / keywords / CPC / IPC etc.

  • Categories vs. CPC/IPC – can help in finding new research directions for your technologies.
  • Categories vs. keywords (technology terms generated from text) – Useful to find hidden gems since this analysis can generate interesting correlations from the dataset

Multi-generation forward citation analysis also helps in tracking the use of technology in different application areas and thereby uncovering new areas for your IP.

Validation of white space