A Global Energy Services Company Finds Value in AI Speed for Patent Analysis

How the Director of IP at Centrica leverages LexisNexis Cipher Classification


Director of Intellectual Property at Centrica, Charles Clark, discusses the efficiency gains from using Cipher and the tasty bits of data gleaned from using Cipher’s AI speed for patent analysis over conventional search.  While British Gas remains a core part of its business, Centrica is expanding rapidly into home energy management and faces unique pressures as it transforms into a technology company.

Charles splits his time equally between the Ventures team, scouting for new technologies and the business-to-business side of the Centrica team. He helps them with partnerships and new technologies such as battery storage or solar panels. His role is centered around helping the business to understand the value of innovation and the value of partnerships with technology companies and helping them to capture that value and enable them to bring it to the bottom line.

What are the kinds of pressures that you face in the patent team?

The technology challenges that we face at Centrica are concerned with the use of new technology coming into the energy sector.  Energy is being disrupted hugely at the moment and will continue to be in the future by new technologies that make it easier to manage our energy use and reduce our carbon consumption.  Having that ability with Cipher classifications to look across all the technology spaces that could potentially impact energy is of huge importance to us.

The pressures from the patent side are also focused on building a patent portfolio. We have the usual monetary pressures, and the pressure of helping the business to understand the value of intellectual property is a continuing educational piece. I also work with the teams that report to the executives and help them understand and appreciate IP. That’s been a success. I am now speaking to Senior Managers and executives within the businesses who are coming to me and saying, “What is the IP in this particular project? How can we protect it?  How can we make the best use of it?”  It’s been a challenging process, but I feel that we’re starting to get really good traction right now.

What Cipher gives us is speed to enable us to look at the vast amounts of the patent data through a different lens, in a much quicker time than would be possible, without the use of artificial intelligence, with just using normal searching techniques.
Charles Clark, Director of Intellectual Property, Centrica

How has Cipher’s AI speed for patent analysis helped meet these challenges?

Cipher classification looks at the IP data through a different lens than the more traditional search engines. For example, we can build classifiers that are looking at a scope of technology rather than doing your more classic Boolean keyword searching that may miss or pick up some stuff completely unrelated to the areas we want to look at. Looking at the landscape through a business opportunity lens gives us a different aspect than more conventional search engines can do.

What’s your experience of working with classifiers compared to, say, Boolean?

We can build a classifier (using Cipher’s AI speed) that sits across all the other codes already embedded in the patent system. Maybe you see those as verticals. We can build a horizontal filter that sits across all of those, giving us another dimension to assemble data from the vast amounts of patent data out there.

How have you found engaging with the LexisNexis team?

The LexisNexis team has been an excellent support to us at Centrica in building our classifiers and understanding our business to get the results that we are looking for, which would not be available from a more classical approach. They take the time to understand our technology. They probe what it is we’re trying to achieve as a business and apply that to a classifier. It’s an intricate process building the classifier, and they will refine a classifier until it works for us as a business and enables us to get the results that are going to be the most useful – that, obviously, requires our input from the business side and their expertise with the technology classification.

The value of the system is being able to cut across the silos that traditional patent classification codes have used. It enables us to take a new look at the data through a business lens, a commercial lens, as opposed to simply a patent lens.

How would you explain the value of Cipher to other members of the IP community?

This has been a very interesting learning curve for me to understand how AI works and how it accelerates the process. It helps us to get to an answer quicker. It is not looking for specific keywords but looking for themes and concepts. And because questions are sort of blurry at the edge, I find the approach very interesting. Because where data might have been cut out in a more traditional search, that blurry edge can be quite informative. It’s that slightly blurry edge that is the tasty bit. It’s almost like going from Newtonian mechanics to the new world of quantum mechanics back at the turn of the last century. And it’s bringing that new dimension around the understanding of the universe.

Cipher gives us AI speed for patent analysis, enabling us to look at huge and vast amounts of patent data through a different lens in a much quicker time than possible, without the use of artificial intelligence, with just using normal searching techniques. The AI adds that extra dimension of speed – for us, that’s critical.