Researching innovations in a technology area: Avalanche rescue

In recent years, there has been a much greater awareness of the important role that patents play in legal, technology and business environments, with high profile patent battles between technology giants playing out in the courts (and the media) on a regular basis. As well as monitoring any infringement on a corporation’s novel ideas, knowing and studying global patent data is also an effective tool to avoid parallel developments and wasted R&D efforts in overcrowded research fields. With this in mind, Minesoft has designed a suite of patent information products and a global, searchable patent database. Users can easily search, review, analyse and share patent information across a corporation; effectively harness the knowledge found in patents, gain competitive intelligence and build on the ideas of others to drive innovation forward in all technology areas.

To understand the ‘big picture’ that can be painted from an analysis of a set of patent data, it is worth first taking a step back to look at the individual patent. A glance at the anatomy of a patent reveals key information to be extracted. Firstly, technical information is available from the description, drawings & classification codes which describe in detail the technologies covered by the patent and can indicate a competitor’s research and development focus or the fields of expertise of their inventors for example.  Secondly, business-specific information can be found in bibliographic or reference fields included on the patent document, such as the applicant name and filing data. Looking at geographical status – designated states for example – can provide insight into foreign markets of interest that sit outside restricted geographies and are therefore in the public domain and open for IP development.

A study of innovations in rescuing avalanche victims

Lawinenschnur (avalanche cord)

During the first world war, Austro-Hungarian mountain troops were given an avalanche cord as part of their personal mountaineering equipment. Usually around 20+ metres long, the rope was often made of red cotton for maximum visibility with direction arrows positioned at metre intervals. If there was a risk of avalanche, the soldier would throw the ball out and pull the cord along the snow behind him. If he was buried by an avalanche, there was a relatively good chance that part of the avalanche cord would still be visible on top of the avalanche slide, thanks to its length. Rescuers could then determine from the direction arrows, in which direction and how many metres they had to dig and follow the cord to the victim.

A patent for the avalanche cord or Lawinenschnur was published by German & Austrian patent offices in 1930, view it in PatBase here. (non-users can also view the patent in the PatBase folder viewer)

Radio locating unit for persons in distress

Thanks to more recent inventions, such as avalanche transceivers, the classic avalanche cord is rarely used today. This patent for a transponder for use in locating avalanche victims was invented by Swedish & Austrian engineers and first published at the beginning of1980.

A transponder would be carried on the body of the skier, designed to be used in tangent with a search-transmitter. Originally based on a Swiss patent for protection against theft in shops – for use in locating avalanche victims lower frequencies were used as they were more effective at transmitting through snow.

By the 2000s, a variety of avalanche rescue inventions had been published, such as inflatable airbags to provide buried people with oxygen for as long as possible. Such as this German patent, published in 2001, for avalanche protection clothing. Consisting of an inflatable waistcoat with oversize inflatable helmet hood to be filled with oxygen with a nozzle for the wearer to use to breathe.

An overview analysis

Running an analysis on patent information in this technology area reveals relationships and trends that would be hard to discern when working on a patent-by-patent basis alone.

Before running the analysis, PatBase classification finder was used to identify relevant codes for this technology area. For example, A63B29/00 (apparatus for mountaineering) and A63B29/02 (Mountain guy-ropes or accessories, e.g. avalanche ropes; means for indicating the location of accidentally buried, e.g. snow-buried, persons). PatBase Thesaurus was used to identify additional synonyms and translate into Latin languages and the non-Latin search was used to search across Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Thai languages. Optimise search was used to refine the search results and improve accuracy before scanning through the result set to ensure that important patents in the technology area had been identified.

The refined search consisted of 255 patent families, for which an analysis was run in Analytics V2.

Using the integrated Analytics engine, PatBase Analytics V2, to assess the obtained results from our search, information was successfully retrieved about the key players within the technology field. To date, the key jurisdictions in this technology area are Germany, EPO, USA, Austria & France.

The top assignees include mountaineering equipment companies, scientific & technical research centres. The company Orvotox, which has been developing safety equipment for mountain sports and invented the first dual frequency transceiver in 1980, has the most relevant patent families. Followed by ABS Peter Aschauer GmbH, a company which invented the avalanche airbag over 30 years ago and is still considered a market leader today.

Countries like Germany, USA and Austria are key jurisdictions in this market, unsurprising as they all have mountainous regions popular with skiers and at risk of avalanches.

Studying the forward citations show that ABS Peter Aschauer GmbH is the most frequently cited and therefore most influential assignee in the result set. This also suggests that the avalanche airbag is a crowded area within this technology field. The second most cited assignee is Bengt Enander who was in charge of the team of engineers who invented the first transceiver for rescuing avalanche victims.

In just a few minutes, PatBase and integrated PatBase Analytics V2 can be used to identify key players in the space for licensing agreements, locate expired IP that is open for use. Whether you have a practical problem to solve, valuable IP you wish to keep track of or competitors to monitor, Minesoft’s solutions have you covered.

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