Mobile war : patents and graph visualization

If you’re following the news you probably have heard of the epic suits tech companies are engaged in. A US jury has ordered Samsung to pay Apple $120M and Rockstar (ie Apple, Microsoft et al ) has launched a nuclear strike on Google. With every one suing everyone, it’s hard to follow what’s going on.

Thomson Reuters did a good job of collecting the data on the infamous “mobile war”, the different lawsuits mobile companies (device and component manufacturers) are involved in. They even did an infographic to represent the situation.

Mobile patent suits – Thomson Reuters

The original idea was good. A simple list would have been hard to understand. It forces the reader to build a mental representation of the underlying network and it’s not something our brains are very good at. The Thomson Reuters infographic is hardly better though. As it is, it looks like a spaghetti plate.

Representing relationships between a few entities can be tough. Especially when the relationships are numerous : in this case, you can easily end up with a result which is hard to decipher, like the aforementioned example. Picking up on this problem, Mike Bostock used the Thomson Reuters data to build a network.

Mobile patent lawsuits – Mike Bostock

This makes more sense. Here dashed lines represent resolved suits and green ones are licensing deals. As Nathan Yau from FlowingData notes

Bostock’s is way easier to read and interpret. There’s no criss-crossing, and placement actually means something.

This is a great example of how important graph visualization is. Understanding relationships within a dataset is most often best done by visually representing this dataset as a network. It allows for a rapid analysis. In one look you can see the whole network or identify some patterns. Here for example we can see 3 groups in the mobile war.

As a side note, considering the number of lawsuits Apple is targeted by, it looks like it’s not easy to be the top dog of the mobile business.

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