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10/16/2007
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Spark IP: an eBay for Ideas

SparkIP.com is a new Web site that aims to create a marketplace where ideas can be bought and sold.

SparkIP.com is a new Web site that aims to create a marketplace where ideas can be bought and sold.SparkIP connects ideas and investors in two ways. First, you can dive into a database of 3.5 million U.S. patents using a Google-inspired keyword search. Second, technology owners can list technology available for licensing.

CEO Ed Trimble says there's too much inefficiency from the time an idea is hatched to when it can be productized and sold. By creating a marketplace the links new technologies with potential investors, SparkIP aims to make the process more efficient.

The company hopes to attract university and government researchers, entrepreneurs, inventors, corporations and patent attorneys. The site is currently available for free. Once SparkIP gets users hooked, it will charge subscription fees.

The site is clean and easy to navigate, which is a plus considering the patent database holds an intimidating amount of information. You can kick off a patent search using basic keywords. Results are arranged visually, in what SparkIP calls SparkClusters, which act like tag clouds and look like molecular diagrams.

As you drill down on a cloud you can find specific patents, the patent holders and inventors, and read descriptions of the patent. A cluster with a green halo around it indicates that a patent is available for licensing.

The site also posts listing of licensable technologies. At present, the listings are sparse. The company expects listings to grow as word spreads about the site. Listings are grouped in relatively broad categories, including IT Hardware, Semiconductors, Software, Biotechnology and so on.

Potential licensors can browse the listings and read descriptions of the technology on offer. For instance, if I were a security or financial services company, the listing for "A new, undeniable digital signature scheme" from the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne in Switzerland might catch my eye.

You can also contact the technology's owner. Note, however, the communication is only one-way. It doesn't tell you whom to contact, just lets you send a message. Presumably you have to wait to hear back from the licensor.

This is an odd feature, given that one goal of the site is to foster a community. On this front the site has a lot of work to do, especially given all the capabilities of Web 2.0 that enable community building. That said, it's still early days for the site.

Trimble says SparkIP will continually update the site as new U.S. patents are granted. They also have plans to add information gleaned from science journals, grants, patent applications, and international patent databases.

SparkIP is funded by seed money from Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack. Trimble says they will seek other investors next year. The company was founded by Kristina Johnson, provost of John Hopkins, and Rob Clark, Dean of Duke University's engineering school.

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