There’s an air of magic to innovation. And rightfully so. Great inventions sometimes come like lightening bolts from the blue sky or as a result of months or even years of creative thinking by especially brilliant people. So the notion of optimizing innovation–making it faster and more efficient–probably makes some people cringe.
I say: Get over it. Any tool that helps us arrive at new and better ways of doing things more quickly and easily is a friend of innovation. It will also help improve national competitiveness.
A good example of innovation optimization in practice is IBM’s Business Analytics and Optimization strategic IP insight platform, or SIIP. After more than six years in the lab, this piece of sophisticated technology just graduated to become an official offering of IBM’s services organization. But, unless you’re an IBMer, a client or a stockholder, that’s not the most interesting part. What’s cool about this technology is it has the potential to make innovation happen faster and more cost-effectively in fields ranging from healthcare to education to agriculture. “We’re setting out on a path that could create something that’s really game changing for for industries and society. It could even lead to curing cancer and other really terrible diseases,” says Ying Chen, the IBM Research scientist who heads up the SIIP project. ”
The first target industries for SIIP are life sciences and chemicals. It allows researchers to quickly and effectively find information in patents and scientific literature that could be useful in developing new compounds or in identifying new uses for drugs. In life sciences, it could speed research for the discovery of new medicines–and make the discovery process less expensive.
In a show of goodwill, IBM is donating a SIIP-based database of chemicals to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The database includes information extracted from patents and scientific abstracts of the United States National Library of Medicine’s® MEDLINE® database up to the year 2000.
SIIP has a surprising history. Seven years ago, researchers at IBM’s Almaden research laboratory in San Jose, Calif. started helping the company’s intellectual property department mine more value from the company’s extensive patent portfolio. IBM has more than 34,000 active U.S. patents in its portfolio. The challenge was understanding which ones are most relevant and valuable to today’s innovation environment. Using data mining and text analytics, the researchers came up with a technology platform that saves IBM from having to employ an army of patent engineers and attorneys and optimizes the value of the portfolio for licensing purposes. Today, IBM reaps about $1 billion a year in IP-based income.
Shortly after the SIIP project got underway, a group of chemical and life sciences companies came to IBM looking for an automated way to track information about molecules and compounds in patents and technical literature. A single chemical compound can have as many as 100 distinct names, so the process of locating and tracking them had to be automated. The researchers designed SIIP so it could handle this task. Also, the technology is capable of interpreting visual representations of chemical compounds. Research projects that used to take months could now be handled in days or even minutes. The IBM scientists worked closely with scientists at DuPont, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb and other companies to make sure the platform had the capabilities that the chemical and pharma industries require.
A next step will be melding SIIP with IBM’s Watson–the question-and-answer machine that beat past champions at TV’s Jeopardy! game. SIIP is complementary with Watson. It can provide the knowledge base that Watson taps for answers to questions.
Usually when we talk about information overload we’re thinking of the ocean of information that inundates individuals via the Web. But, for industries and their intellectual property, info overload can be even more daunting–and a drag on innovation. SIIP and its brethren in the the technology sphere provide powerful ways to cut through the clutter and find the truly valuable bits that can make a difference to society.