Circular Logic in Patent Analysis

By Robert Cantrell

If you encountered an alien from another world and wanted him to understand the concept of what a word is, chances are you would put words (and their object or idea representation) into context with the letters from which we write them and the sentences and paragraphs for which they are a part. This is the best way to describe any system – to put it into context with a system below it and a system above it. It also takes into account work by the mathematician Gödel that shows you cannot describe a system in context with itself.

In the patent world, we frequently violate Gödel’s work by seeking to obtain the value of a patent by measuring it in context with other patents. We create within our patent analyses the “Liar’s Paradox” shown by the sentence “This sentence is false.” An analysis of “This sentence is false.” shows that it cannot be true because then it would be false, and it cannot be false because then it would be true. Patent citations analysis can create a similar dynamic. This patent is valuable because it is highly cited, and this patent is highly cited because it is valuable is always true…except when it is false.

We look at patent citations counts, count patent family members, examine claims structures compared to related patents, and so on, all within context of other patents. So if a patent receives twenty citations and the majority of patents in the field receive five or less, we might assign a higher value to that first patent. Sometimes this would be true; sometimes it would not be true. We could never know for sure until we looked at what that patent means outside the system of patents. Even in that case, the value of the patent would vary widely depending upon what an entity could do with it, or what enforcement of the patent by others kept that entity from doing.

I am not saying here to ignore indicators such as patent citations counts, because if a highly cited patent appears on your radar screen, then you might want to know why it is highly cited. Understand that indicator for what it means, not for what you would like it to mean.

Photo credit: Hemera®


  1. Here is a similar story
    A portion of a logic emulation system is configured to sample logic values from the portion of the emulation system that is used to emulate the user digital logic design. These sampled values are then multiplexed by the emulation system to a logic analysis device. Typically, this is a commercially-available logic analyzer. To achieve this functionality, the emulation system is provided with a clock signal that has a higher frequency than the emulation clock signal received from the target or user system. This high speed clock signal is provided to logic analyzer as a strobe signal and controls the transfer of words of logic values from the emulation system to the logic analyzer. As a result, the number of signals that the logic analyzer can effectively sample for a cycle of the emulation clock is increased. Each probe of the logic analyzer can now receive multiple time-division multiplex logic values for each emulation clock cycle thus, increasing the width of logic analysis that can be performed on a particular emulation system with the conventional logic analyzers.

    • It (the need to assess systems in context with the systems from which they are a part, not individually) is a universal concept in strategy, pretty much no matter what the system, and no matter whether it is a strategy for a contest among people or how to assess the viability of a system or machine. The error of trying to assess a system in context with itself seems to come about the less well a system assessed is understood. Most people inherently know that you cannot assess the politics of a country without putting it into context with its neighbors and the global community. Get into something complex, like IP or system logic design, and then the chance for error rises. Likewise, while you can assess a country’s politics in context with the global community, what do you use to put the global community into context? – Hence the need to create a system that can be above a global community, such as universal secular or religious philosophies or human behavioral studies. It can seem a bit airy at first, but taking the time to study it all a little in the areas important to you can raise the level of understanding, and the resulting effectiveness of your strategic thinking, tremendously.

  2. Naim Khan says:

    A bit off the topic here but this reminds me of Godel’s Universe where the whole is universe is rotating but against what. Interestingly enough it is an exact solution of the Einstein Field equations of gravity.

  3. Naim Khan says:

    Patent analysis must be connected to an identified ecosystem of technology or technologies in question. This is more than just IP landscaping.

    • Hi Naim Kahn –

      Of course once we start talking about the Gödel Universe, we get into the idea of time travel within systems, which would demand a fundamental change in our prior art laws.

      Certainly patents need to be put into context with the technical systems for which they are a part, and those in context with the solutions for which the technology is derived, which then can rotate against the mathematically provable law that the chief cause of problems is solutions. The ideal solution provides 100% of the intended benefit with 0% drawback, which since you cannot have a zero in the denominator means that all solutions must have drawbacks. Even if we could travel back in time to change a cause before it becomes an effect, that change would cause other problems.

      What can this mean? Patent value has to be determined in context with the technical system of which it is a part, and the systems for which technology is a part, and so on, and all that can only exist as commercial value if it has imperfections. In effect, you cannot have a product to sell, and you cannot have tangible value to assign to a patent, unless there is an imperfection (drawback) in the technology and solution given that if you create an ideal solution, a mechanism would not exist, and so you would have nothing to patent or sell within the system for which we want to value patents.

      This goes on to create a paradox for valuing patents, since commercial value and value to the human condition are actually independent variables, and so any user of traditional measures of patent value, like patent citations, has not even accounted for which value those indicators may correlate to most closely, if at all. The pinnacle of achievement for an inventor and the most valuable invention for the human condition – the ideal solution – is worth zero commercially. So a new solution that prevents a problem when the previous state-of-the-art could only treat a problem may receive a lot of citations as the solution evolves closer to the ideal, yet commercially it could be worth much less to prevent a problem than to treat it…a value which itself is relative to the person and perhaps whether he was making money treating a problem already or whether preventing a problem represented a new commercial opportunity to enter a business.

  4. Informatics Outsourcing is an Offshore Intellectual Property Services company. They are providing Intellectual Property services for Bio Technology, Biochemistry, Drug Discovery, Chemistry, etc


  1. […] Circular logic in patent analysis (IP Think Tank) […]

  2. […] Cantrell writes in that it may be illogical to obtain the value of a patent by measuring it only in context with […]

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