Search Visualizer and patent searching

In some ways, patent searching has changed dramatically over the last hundred years. In other ways, it’s still exactly the same as it was a century ago.

The most obvious change is in the speed of online searching. You can find tens of thousands of potentially relevant documents in less than a second.

Two key problems, though, have remained unchanged, and are so familiar that we scarcely notice them. One is that you’re limited by language: nobody searches in languages that they don’t speak. The other is that you’re limited by reading speed. Compared to the speed of the computer’s initial search, that’s glacially slow.

We’ve tackled those problems by turning them on their heads. What happens if you try assessing documents for relevance without reading the words?

The answer is that you can assess their relevance a lot faster, and you can do it in languages that you don’t speak.

How can you do that? That’s what the Search Visualizer software is for.

The key concept is simple. You can tell a lot about a document just by knowing where the keywords occur in relation to each other. Searching for prior art or existing patents is a great area for Search Visualizer because it allows researchers to start off with a general search and then narrow that search down by focusing on the website or document that shows the most promising results in terms of matching keywords by their colour and where they appear in the results.

This is a screenshot of a Search Visualizer search for “Wind Turbine Technology Patents”. It shows results from a search of the web. Each website found in the search is shown as a separate column; each square within a column represents a word within that document; red squares show where the word “Wind” occurs, green squares show where the word “Turbine” occurs, black shows where the word “Technology” occurs and yellow shows where the word “Patents” occurs. It’s easy to see from this screenshot how big each record is and how relevant it’s likely to be. Also, it’s easy to do this without even knowing which language you’re seeing represented in the images; all you need to know is which colour of square represents which of your keywords so you could translate the keywords into any language and search the web for results in the language of your choice (the ‘content not readable’ result is from a secure page that requires a login to access the data).

Example 2: Search of Google patents website based on the 5th result in example 1 above

Search Visualizer includes the ability to search an individual website for further analysis once the initial general web search has been completed (example 1). The above screenshot shows the results of a search for “wind turbine technology patents” on the Google patents website.

The results can be analysed further by clicking on any of the selected results above and hovering the mouse over the keyword colours in order to see a snapshot of the context in which that word appears on the website. The actual website can then be accessed by clicking on any of the white squares:

Example 3: General search for “wind turbine technology patents” but in French:

The basic Search Visualizer is available for free at and you can find hints and tips for using it here:

The site includes worked examples, hints and tips, and articles about using Search Visualizer for specialist work. It also includes some documents which you can examine in detail, including some very large documents (one document is over half a million words long) so that you can see how Search Visualizer can let you handle extremely large texts.

We will soon be launching a desktop version of Search Visualizer, which lets you search documents on your own PC, and which can be customised for different fields (including a version tailored for patent searching).

We’d welcome feedback on the Search Visualizer; we hope you find it interesting and useful.

Gordon Rugg


About searchvisualizer

We welcome debate and disagreement, but not abuse, trolling or thread derailment. We reserve the time-honoured right of blog owners and moderators to be arbitrary, capricious and autocratic in our wielding of the ban hammer. Gordon Rugg is a former timberyard worker, archaeologist and English lecturer who ended up in computer science via psychology. He’s the same Gordon Rugg who did the Voynich Manuscript work, and the books with Marian Petre about research. He’s co-inventor of the Search Visualizer.
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