May 22, 2015

Future of Patent Research & Changes in Industry > Doris Spielthenner, CEO of Ambercite > thinkPat Interview

Ambercite leverages the citation network of patents and the power of their connections to provide innovative solutions in patent analytics. I have tried their tool, and it is amazing.

Imagine the work and the effort put in by examiners by having all citation information at your fingertips. Imagine the power of having a social network of patents!

We speak with Doris Spielthenner, CEO of Ambercite, to get a sneak peek at what drove her to start Ambercite, what were some challenges she faced, what are her thoughts on this changing industry and market, and what does she and Ambercite have in store for us.

Q&A with Doris Spielthenner - CEO, Ambercite

What motivated you to start working on Ambercite?

A few years back when I worked on a data analytics project for Kodak in the US, I realized two things. 

  • First, that patent information is one of the greatest sources of business intelligence of our time. It tells you about a field's or a company's trajectory, how and which assets an organization utilizes post-M&A, a company's growth focus and revenue protection strategy or approach to collaboration. 

  • Second, that there were not enough tools or organizations that would attempt to make use of those data points and many insights that can be drawn from patent data simply had remained uncovered. 

Most tools were and still are database products that allowed you to search a repository of information and then let you do basic statistics across that data, such as how many patents in field x, filed by whom, trends over time, etc. Yet, more advanced analytics can be applied.

How did it all begin?

I tested my thinking with patent attorneys and people from technology companies in and around San Francisco, where I lived at the time, and most seemed to agree. 

A patent attorney, Antoinette Konski, of Foley LLP, who has an immense depth of experience in the stem cell field, and I decided to interrogate the stem cell patent landscape using these new ways of patent analytics that I proposed. The results of our work ended up getting published in Nature Biotechnology.

Konski and Spielthenner, "Stem Cell Patents, A Landscape Analysis," Nature Biotechnology (Vol. 27(8), pages 722-726, 2009) Link

This then led to a number of speaking engagements in industry forums and with each such opportunity or follow-on client project, I increased my own understanding of what are the most valuable legal or business insights and how can they be teased out of patent data. 

Upon moving to Australia I looked for partners who would share my vision, and I co-founded Ambercite together with a leading Australian IP attorney/law firm, Griffith Hack and our CTO Ben Palmer. Ben impressed upon me with his fast way of big data interrogation and intuitive way of representing insights, all stemming from his background in Artificial Intelligence and software for the gaming and defense industry.

Do you think few years down the line patent landscaping and searches will be fully automated with no human involvement?

Funny, you should say that. The first service we created is a patent landscaping service, which we still have not turned into a fully automated software as a service. 

We find there is a strong need for patent landscaping, but the business or R&D insights that people want to draw from those maps are not vanilla. 

Patent landscaping can be a very complex exercise and it is hard to strike the right balance between giving people full control over the tool,  providing them with 100 ways to make decisions or interrogate results, which adds complexity and increases barrier of access and use. Or on the other end of the continuum taking that control and choice away from people and have the machine spit out results, expecting users to trust the intelligence of the black box. 

We have not yet found the holy grail and therefore are continuing to offer patent landscaping as a hybrid between service and automated software, which in the end of the day is a great way to learn more about user requirements and building a relationship. 

What can be some future solutions from Ambercite? What are you working on?

We found that Ambercite products can be a great complementary addition to what other platforms or organizations are already doing with a traditional keyword-based approach to patent searching and analytics. 

Therefore we are releasing an API that let's others integrate the Ambercite "smart data" or search results from "Cluster Searching" into their tools
We are also working on an advanced patent watch service that is built on the smarts of Cluster Searching. It will alert users to new patent applications our algorithms predict to be similar, based not on keywords or patent class codes, but on sophisticated citation analysis, even if just one citation might be known.

What are some of the challenges you face? How have they changed over time as the company grew?

Being Australia-based of course we are fighting the tyranny of distance, then again today's communication tools allow to run webinars or conference calls anytime, anywhere. 

Building a strong and reliable database poses a challenge to anyone, specifically as we rely heavily on the quality of citation data that is available. Over the past years, as citation data and the use thereof has become more important, the quality of citation data provided by the patent offices has become better and more widely available. 

Although using patent indicators for automated insight generation is an older concept, its actual intelligent implementation has taken quite a stride recently. What are your thoughts on this growing competition?

I believe the emergence of free search tools such as Google Patents, Patentlens or Espacenet has created real pressure to innovate onto traditional IP database providers because these platforms now have to prove that they can provide significant value-add over free products.

There's also a number of new niche patent analytics companies out there and we will probably see this market converge. 

However, I also see another trend. My background is in customer analytics and if you look to that industry you can see that there has been a shift towards shortening the chain of command between analyst and decision maker.

Marketing or Customer Managers now have direct access to intuitive dashboards that let them derive insights and make decisions. In the IP space, there is a lot of workload on the few patent analysts in the organisation that have access to database tools. If anything with new analytics capability these tools are growing in complexity currently increasing the distance within an organisation between knowledge discovery and decision making.

At Ambercite we are trying to create smart tools, everyone in the organisation can access and understand. 

Do you think the patent databases with their current developments in common citation document etc. might give out analytics /intelligent solutions / smarter search options in future for free?

Patent Offices would have the capacity to provide such options for free, however, will be very wary of moving into the private market space. For other database providers to offer such services for free and survive the business model might have to be supported along the lines of a Google. 

Because patent data and people's patent searches or search strategies are a source of business intelligence I believe "industry", i.e. larger technology corporations or IP attorney/law firms will always have a need for protected, private search and business intelligence environments and will be prepared to pay for that sophistication and access.


I believe automated patent analytics is the way of the future, and keeping that in mind, Ambercite and Doris, Thank You! Keep up the good work!