VANCOUVER, B.C. A tiny startup will launch tomorrow (Oct. 16) a Web site it wants to build into a central repository for intellectual property and an online meeting place for researchers in any scientific field. The company, formed by senior academics at Duke and Johns Hopkins, officially came out of stealth mode at the Licensing Executive Society meeting
The company is creating a Web site where users can do rich, visually-oriented contextual searches of existing patents and other forms of licensable technology. It also wants to be a location where technology buyers and sellers can meet.
"We want to crate a site the scientific community will feel compelled to visit every day," said Ed Trimble, chief executive of SparkIP and a former founder of EzGov Inc. that helped various government departments launch online services.
Getting a critical mass both for its database of patents and IP and of users is a chief hurdle for the ten-person startup. So far SparkIP has aggregated data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office which makes available online the more than three million patents it has granted since the 1960's.
Starting this week, four universities will begin adding their licensable technology to the database—Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State University and EPFL of Switzerland. SparkIP was founded by Rob Clark, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke and Kristina Johnson, provost and senior president of academic affairs at John's Hopkins.
To encourage other universities, government labs and corporations to list their intellectual property, SparkIP is making access to the site free of charge for an indefinite time. Eventually the company hopes to make money by charging subscriptions for its Web-based services.
One of the initial attractions of the site is its rich capability to search for intellectual property by technology or company, competing to some extent with the Google Patent service. The Web site also displays histories of patent activity by subject area and company.
One of the novel aspects of SparkIP's site is its visual search capabilities. The startup has developed algorithms to group related patents into clusters and show how those clusters relate to each other.
The algorithms make associations based on a filtered set of citations to about 6,000 core patents. Those groupings then go through a filtering process based on a natural language analysis.
The process of creating these clusters takes about five days of computer processing on the startup's systems and is run as a batch job every few weeks. The group now maintains a file of about 35,000 clusters and receives data from the US patent office on about 3,000 newly issued patents a week. Over time, the visual analysis capability could help users find and track emerging sources of new patent activity, Trimble said.
SparkIP will compete with other online sites trying to create repositories of intellectual property such as Yet2.com which has a database of about 3,000 mainly corporate listings of licensable technology. Although SparkIP bills itself as an e-commerce site, any transactions to buy and sell IP discovered on its site would be handled offline.
The startup is also developing an in-house Web-based tool to let companies, universities and government labs capture and track their intellectual property from the idea stage to publishable products. In this field, it faces significant competition from in-house tools already in use by major corporations such as Hewlett Packard as well as third party applications widely deployed at leading universities.
"There are so many different ways this company could grow, and we want to make see how to best package what we offer to be of most use to the scientific community," said Trimble.