patent citations


Why are patent citations so often underestimated and underused?

A combination of the volume of citations and their complexity makes it difficult to know how to efficiently navigate and explore patent citation data. Yet, despite these challenges, there are many benefits to the use of citations for patent analysis and competitive and business intelligence.
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 an existing patent publication, journal article, internet publication, conference abstract or oral disclosure.

There are two type of citations:
1) 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”.

These are useful to discover closely related patents and literature and can supplement or enhance an initial keyword or classification based search. Backward citations identified by patent examiners are also classified based on relevance to the patent application in question. This classification 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 citations of all patent family members.

2) Forward 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 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.

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.
For more information on PatBase and Citation Explorer, please contact us at [email protected],or see for yourself with a free trial at