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User-friendly patents

NSF Award:

Open Patent  (New York Law School)

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Patents function as both legal and technical documents. They convey the legal boundaries of an inventor's invention as well as describe the invention so that others can reproduce it. This dual nature makes them challenging to read and understand.

To lessen the complexity of patent language, a team of students from New York Law School and the Pace University Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems designed and developed a software framework that allows users to better understand the nature and purpose of a claimed invention and how it relates to other technologies. 

Beth Noveck and Christopher Wong led the team as they created a system that allows users to apply tags to words, phrases and images contained in any patent document. The tags directly address issues related to: 1) understanding patents, by helping explain vague or ambiguous terms in the patent, and 2) information retrieval of related patent information, by facilitating connections between the tagged items and other relevant content on the Internet.

The tools created in this project enable scientific and technical experts to engage in public decisionmaking and use their expertise to support the patent system. In an initial experiment, the researchers found nearly half (49 percent) of the participants reported that the tags changed their understanding of the claims within the patent application, with over half of those participants reporting that they previously did not understand the claims at all. After viewing or using the tags, they understood at least some of the claims. 

Tagging and visualization are commonly deployed in commercial settings to boost sales. With them, products are easier to find and recommendations easier to visualize. The same tools now offer new ways of organizing knowledge across the public domain.


  • a visualization of multiple parameters used to understand tagging of patents
The correlations between multiple parameters used to tag patents.
Dan Hunter, New York Law School

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