One of the main time and money consuming tasks in the design of industrial devices and parts is the checking of possible patent infringements. Indeed, the great number of documents to be mined and the wide variety of technical language used to describe inventions are reasons why considerable amounts of time may be needed. On the other hand, the early detection of a possible patent conflict, in addition to reducing the risk of legal disputes, could stimulate a designers' creativity to overcome similarities in overlapping patents. For this reason, there are a lot of existing patent analysis systems, each with its own features and access modes. We have designed a visual interface providing an intuitive access to such systems, freeing the designers from the specific knowledge of querying languages and providing them with visual clues. We tested the interface on a framework aimed at representing mechanical engineering patents; the framework is based on a semantic database and provides patent conflict analysis for early-stage designs. The interface supports a visual query composition to obtain a list of potentially overlapping designs.
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