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A patent analysis method to trace technology evolutionary pathways


Increased competition due to rapid technological development pushes all participants in the market to focus on the prospect of New and Emerging Science & Technologies (NESTs). One promising NEST, dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), has attracted attention in recent years. We focus on three research questions: how can we estimate DSSCs research activity trends; how can we identify DSSCs market expansion patterns; and, seeking to identify potential subsystems, what are the likely evolutionary paths of DSSCs development? In this paper, patent analysis is applied to help determine the developmental stage of a particular technology and trace its potential evolutionary pathways. In addition, since patent information can reflect commercial degree, we use patent transfer patterns to help evaluate market shift prospects.

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  1. Another reason to focus on multiple-country families is to avoid overemphasis on Japanese patents. The Japanese patent process differs in terms of deferred examination and more restricted scope patents. E.g. what might constitute one multi-claim EPO patent filing might be many single-claim Japanese Patent Office (JPO) patents.

  2. Reflecting the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT, 1970), the WIPO (a United Nations organization) does not itself grant a patent. An application to the WIPO establishes a filing date, providing time for the applicant to follow up by applying for patent protection with particular additional patent authorities. For our purposes, it serves to indicate interest (and perceived value) of seeking IP protection beyond a home country. Such patent policies change notably over time.


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We acknowledge support from the US National Science Foundation (Award #1064146—“Revealing Innovation Pathways: Hybrid Science Maps for Technology Assessment and Foresight” to Georgia Tech) and also from the “Center for Nanotechnology in Society” project centered at Arizona State University (Award #0937591). The findings and observations contained in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Xiao Zhou.

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Zhou, X., Zhang, Y., Porter, A.L. et al. A patent analysis method to trace technology evolutionary pathways. Scientometrics 100, 705–721 (2014).

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  • Patent analysis
  • Technology evaluation
  • Market shift
  • Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs)