Centrica on the value of Cipher
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. 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 over conventional search. 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, for example, solar panels and such like. His role is centred around helping the business to understand the value of innovation and the value of partnerships with technology companies and help 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 be continuing to be in the future, by new technologies that make it easier to manage our energy use and to reduce our carbon. Having that ability with Cipher to look across all the technology spaces that could potentially impact energy is of huge importance to us.
The pressures from a patent side are also focussed on building a patent portfolio. We have the usual monetary pressures and the pressures of helping the business to understand the value of intellectual property is a continuing educational piece. I also work with the teams that report into the executives and helping them to 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 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 helped with meeting these challenges?
Cipher 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 scope of technology, rather than doing your more classic Boolean keyword searching that may miss or pick up some stuff that is completely unrelated to the areas that 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 been your own experience of working with classifiers compared to, say, Boolean?
We can build a classifier that sits across all the other codes that are already embedded in the patent system. Maybe you see those as verticals. We can build a horizontal filter that sits across all of those and so it gives us another dimension to assemble data from the vast amounts of patent data that is out there.
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How have you found engaging with the Cipher team?
The Cipher team have 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 Cipher software.
The value in the Cipher system is being able to cut across the silos that traditional patent classification codes have used and 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 the way that the AI works and 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 really 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 understanding of the universe.
What Cipher gives us is speed to enable us to look at the huge and 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. The AI adds that extra dimension of speed – for us that’s critical.