The Mining Industry in Australia – Visualised through Patent Data

Patent activity provides a good indication of the levels of innovation in a given area as well as the investments organisations are making in these areas.  Patent landscaping tools are available that allow a technology area to be visualised more quickly and easily.  What follows is a brief analysis of patent activity for mining technology in Australia using such tools.

Patent Mapping

A patent map allows us to visualise a set of patent data with the subject matter displayed on a topographical landscape. The present analysis utilises the Clarivate ThemescapeTM software to create the map shown in figure 1.  This map contains data from 13,161 individual Australian patent applications indexed under patent class E21, relating to Mining and Earth Drilling, published from January 2005 to June 2017.  Each patent application is represented as a point on the map.  The white ‘snow topped peaks’ represent the areas of most patent activity, while the blue ‘sea’ shows low patent activity. The ThemescapeTM software allows us to interact with the map in real time to extract information of interest.

Fig. 1: ThemescapeTM Map showing the Mining Landscape for Australian Patent Applications

Patent Applicant Analysis

The top ten patent applicants with the most published applications contained in the map are shown in table 1, below.  This data shows that the majority of patent applicants in the mining area are overseas based companies.  Possible conclusions that can be drawn are that Australian companies are less likely to invest in innovation in this area, or may be comfortable with licencing patented technology from others, or may be more open to collaboration with overseas organisations.

 

  Applicant Name Number
1 Halliburton Energy Services 2219
2 Baker Hughes Inc 756
3 Schlumberger Technology 429
4 Weatherford 399
5 Shell Int Research 395
6 Sandvik 363
7 Vetco Gray 255
8 Landmark Graphics 227
9 Exxonmobil Upstream 200
10 Atlas Copco 165

Table 1: Top Applicants

The coloured points on the map depict the patent applications of the companies in table 1.  From analysis of the map we can see that that, as well as being the highest overall patent applicant, Halliburton (red dots) is particularly dominant in the areas of treatment/fracturing fluids (lower left corner) and monitoring systems (middle/upper right).  We can also see that Landmark Graphics appear to work exclusively in the area of computer modelling (top right corner).

It can also be seen that, although there is some activity by Sandvik and Atlas Copco in the area of rock bolts (top left corner), this area is mostly dominated by other companies with lower numbers of Australian patent applications.  Further analysis from ‘drilling down’ into the rock bolt ‘peak’ has found that a large portion of the patent applications in this area are owned by Australian based applicants.

Other types of Analysis

Other types of analysis possible from the patent map include searching for patent applications published in specific years or timeframes.  From some brief interactions with the ThemescapeTM map of figure 1, we were able to ascertain that there was increased patent activity in the areas of treatment fluid and computer modelling from 2014 to 2016 compared to the earlier period of 2005 to 2007.  The map could also be searched to show the location of patent applicants of interest, for example the patent activity of a known competitor could be visualised.

This type of patent mapping could be utilised by companies to locate potential customers or licensees of their products or processes and even to locate potential business partners.

Other patent databases offer alternative ways of analysing and visualising patent data.  For example, the Innography® database was used to create a text cluster map from the same Australian patent application data contained in the ThemescapeTM map.  The text cluster map shown in figure 2 depicts the relative share of patent activity corresponding to the keywords or key phrases contained in the patent applications analysed.

Fig. 2: Text Clustering Image using the Innography patent database

Patent Activity over Time

A chart of the number of Australian patent applications indexed under patent class E21 (mining and earth drilling) published annually since 2005 is shown in figure 3.

Fig. 3: Chart of Australian patent applications published between 2005 and 2016 in class E21

This chart shows that the number of Australian applications relating to mining technology increased in a slight upward curve from 2005 to 2013.  However, the number of publications has been more varied since 2013, with 2014 and 2016 each showing a decrease from the previous year.

Patent activity is an indicator of innovation and investment in research.  Therefore, the data in figure 3 would suggest that overall innovation in the mining sector has stalled in the past few years following several years of growth.

Conclusion

This high level analysis of patent applications filed in Australian in the field of mining has shown the possible advantages that patent data can bring to a business and the types of conclusions that can be drawn.  Of course, a specific technology field of interest within the mining sector, or any other industry for that matter, could be analysed in greater detail.  The results of a thorough patent analysis could be used to assist in planning a business strategy or to keep track of a competitor’s innovative activities.

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