The global structure of knowledge networks


Patents are legal instruments used to protect the right of individuals to exploit their inventions. Patents are also a type of formalised knowledge used in the production of other knowledge. This project analyses patent citations to determine how patents produce knowledge that may eventually lead to innovation.

Portrait / project description (ongoing research project)

The project is organised into three distinct but related subprojects that examine the origins, development and change in the global structure of knowledge networks. The first subproject employs contemporary database management techniques and technologies to create and manage what is possibly the largest knowledge network available. The second subproject applies information-retrieval algorithms and innovative modelling techniques to identify the subnetwork that links Switzerland to the global structure of knowledge networks. The third subproject employs results from the latest generation of statistical models for social networks to scale up currently available models and apply them to networks of any size.


Patent citations represent the link that any given patent has to other patents. As such, patent citations constitute a trail left by the process of knowledge production. Reframing and understanding patent citation networks helps to shed light on the global production and transformation of knowledge.


We plan to construct the largest and most complete knowledge network currently available. We will do so by merging separate patent data sets provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with information on corporate entities to link patents to company-specific information. We will use the new data sets to develop and test innovative information retrieval techniques and network analysis models. We will then apply these techniques and analytical models to large data sets with complex and evolving network structures.


Switzerland consistently ranks first (most recently in 2016) in the Global Innovation Index published by the World Intellectual Property Organization and other leading entities. Understanding how knowledge is produced, combined and transformed is key to sustaining Switzerland’s global leadership in innovation.

Original title

The Global Structure of Knowledge Networks: Data, Models and Empirical Results

Project leaders

  • Professor Alessandro Lomi, Interdisciplinary Institute of Data Science, Università della Svizzera Italiana
  • Dr. Fabio Crestani, Facoltà di scienze informatiche, Università della Svizzera italiana
  • Dr. Robins Garry, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne



Further information on this content


Professor Alessandro Lomi Interdisciplinary Institute of Data Science
Università della Svizzera Italiana
Blue Building, Office S07 (Level S)
Via Buffi 6
6900 Lugano