Quantitative Determination of Technological Improvement from Patent Data


The Inventors have developed a method to quantify the improvement of a technological domain over time by employing novel techniques to analyze patent data in the domain. This method can be used by corporations to assess product direction and strategy, by investors to determine which technological endeavors to fund or acquire, and by research directors and planners in industry, government and universities.

Problem Addressed

It is possible to quantify the improvement of a technological domain over time, as a function of the specific generic task that the technological domain is accomplishing. While there has been considerable research into finding the improvement rates for different technologies and understanding measuring them, there has been relatively little work done to understand why there may be differences in improvement rates across technologies. One data source that has been widely used for understanding technological change is patent data. Patents are an attractive choice for analyzing technological change because they are generalizable, objective, quantitative and qualitative. However, patents are limited in that they may not cover all inventions or discoveries and are subject to legal limitations as opposed to business or technological limits. The Inventors’ method aims to test the severity of these shortcomings relative to technological processes in a wide set of technological domains and determine which patent metrics correlate significantly with a field’s technological improvement rate (k-value). 


There are three main components of the methodology. The first is to select the domains of interest and find their corresponding k-values. Next is to locate a set of patents that represent each of the same technological domains so that the patent metrics listed earlier can be extracted from a representative set of patents. This procedure is done using a classification overlap method that takes advantage of the fact that many patents are classified in multiple International and/or US patent classes and uses the overlap of the classes that are most closely related to a technology in order to clearly define a specific set of US issued patents to represent the technology of interest. Finally, the third component of the methodology is to analyze the patent sets to find the set of patent metrics for each technological domain and compare those metrics quantitatively with the k-value for each domain. This is done by calculating the average number of forward citations in 3 years (FwdCit3) and the average publication year (AvgPubYear) and using the following predictive model to estimate the improvement rate: K = -31.12 + 0.141 * FwdCit3 + 0.015 * AvgPubYear. The current technological capability can be used to forecast forward using the k-value as an “interest rate” for the technology, as follows: FutureCapability = CurrentCapabiliy * ek(number of years)..


  • Methodology enables finding improvement rates in technological domains in a matter of minutes, rather than the months or years it would take with prior methods of calculation
  • Method should remain viable for at least 10-12 eras into the future