The Power of Patent Citations

The Power of Patent Citations

Patent citations are a key contributor to many patent related tasks, and can help you both protect your own intellectual property, and be incredibly useful when researching existing patent data. This article will cover what a patent citation is, and how they can be utilised to gain competitive advantages.

What are Patent Citations?

A patent citation is a document cited by an applicant, third party or a patent office examiner because its content relates to a patent application. Any publicly available document can be cited, including existing patents or patent applications, journal articles, internet publications, conference abstracts, research papers, or oral disclosures.

There are two types of patent citations; ‘forward citations’ and ‘backward citations’.

Backward Patent Citations

Backward citations are earlier published documents that are publicly available before the filing date of a new patent application, and are sometimes called “prior art”.

Backward patent citations are useful to discover closely related patents and literature, and can supplement or enhance an initial keyword or classification-based patent searches. Backward citations identified by patent examiners are also classified based on relevance to the patent application in question.

This classification of patent citation can be useful to quickly focus a search to the most relevant “prior art”. Since different patent examiners can often cite different prior art against the same invention, it can be useful to review the backward patent citations of all patent family members. It also demonstrates to patent examiners their awareness of existing patents and to emphasise the distinctiveness of their own inventions.

Forward Patent Citations

Forward patent citations are more recently published documents which have gone on to cite the new patent application.

These forward citations are also useful from a competitive or business intelligence perspective, and help to identify players working in a similar area/technology to the new patent application. For example, monitoring the forward citations of a new patent application allows a user to identify new competitors entering a similar field of technology, potential infringers and, possibly, potential licensing opportunities.

The only word of caution when analysing forward citations is that there is a time lag effect, where more recently published patents will have less forward citations than older patents. This needs to be taken into account when comparing patents based solely on the number of forward citations.

Why Patent Citations Are Useful?

When a patent is cited, it signifies that the examiner was aware of the referenced patent but still deemed the applicant’s invention worthy of a patent grant. This can help with new patent applications, as the cited patent bolsters the presumption of validity for the granted patent. This, in turn, can serve as a powerful defence in any potential future litigation, making it difficult for opposing parties to argue that the patent would not have been granted if the examiner had been aware of the cited patent.

Conversely, patent examiners frequently use backward patent citations within a patent application to support their decision-making for rejecting patent approval. Patent examiners approach their duties meticulously, conducting detailed searches of prior art to assess patent applications. It’s important to note that different examiners may focus on distinct sets of related patents, highlighting the critical role of conducting a comprehensive and rigorous patent search when drafting a patent application.

The significance of patent citations cannot be overstated. Patents that receive frequent citations from other patents tend to possess greater economic value compared to those that remain largely uncited. This heightened visibility within their respective fields can be advantageous, opening doors to additional business opportunities and industry recognition.

Why Are Patent Citations So Often Underestimated And Underused?

A combination of the volume of patent citations and their complexity makes it difficult to know how to efficiently navigate and explore patent citation data. Because of this, it can take an extremely long time to search through the required patent citations, if done without the correct software and tools. Yet, despite these challenges, there are many benefits to the use of citations for patent analysis and competitive and business intelligence.

The Benefits of Patent Citations

Patent citations offer valuable insights from a business standpoint, serving various purposes, such as:

Competitive Analysis

By examining patent citations, you can discern what innovations and technologies rival companies are actively pursuing. This knowledge helps you stay informed about your competition’s development efforts.

Technology Trends

Tracking patent citations can help you gauge the prevailing direction of a particular technology or industry. It offers a roadmap of the evolving landscape, allowing you to align your business strategies accordingly.


Patent citations provide a basis for comparing your own technological advancements with those of competitors. This benchmarking process aids in evaluating your position within the market and identifying areas for improvement.

Historical Perspective

Citations can shed light on the technologies that were prominent during a specific time period. This historical context can be invaluable for understanding the evolution of an industry and predicting future trends.

Idea Exploration

Patent citations can bring to your attention related patents and ideas that align with your own innovations. This discovery can inspire collaboration, licensing opportunities, or the development of complementary products.


In essence, patent citations serve as a valuable resource for strategic decision-making, innovation tracking, and competitive positioning in the business world.

Explore Patent Citations Easily with Minesoft

One easy way to exploit this data is to use the new Citation Explorer module in PatBase. Developed by Minesoft in partnership with RWS Group, PatBase is a patent full-text database covering over 100 million patent documents from more than 100 countries. Patent citations are captured as part of the database and are analysed in Citation Explorer at the level of a patent publication or a patent family. To aid this analysis, a number of unique features are available in Citation Explorer.


Citations can be sorted and filtered based on country of origin, date, assignee and examiner relevance codes (e.g. X, Y). A dual panel view allows a side-by-side comparison of a citation with the patent application to which it relates. The ability to flag and add notes against relevant citations and to identify those citations which, from a legal status perspective, are dead or alive helps the user efficiently review and identify citations of interest.


Citation Explorer can help patent information users to overcome the difficulties in examining patent citations and provide powerful information to aid patent analysis and gain competitive or business intelligence.


Get in touch with our team of experts, and request a demo today to find out how PatBase can help you with your patent process.

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