MITEver wonder how many inventions for better mousetraps get patented? Cookware? Gene splicing?

Now you can see – and graph it – for yourself.

The Patent and Trademark Office has launched a project aimed at making its vast storehouse of open data – publicly available data that can be freely accessed and used by anyone — useful to people who will probably never file for a patent.

During the past two months, the office has published an array of data visualizations—charts and graphs—illustrating the range of information that patent data can convey. The visualizations were built with automated data streams known as application programming interfaces, or APIs.

The hope is that members of the public, who are interested in learning more about patents granted to a particular entity or in a given field of study, will use PTO data to create and share their own visualizations.

“We’re hoping that folks will come there and show what they’re doing that’s interesting,” Thomas Beach, the PTO’s acting program manager of digital services and data analytics, said. Beach runs the PTO’s Innovation Lab, which developed the APIs and built many of the visualizations.

“I try not to be prescriptive,” he said. “We want to give you the tools to build something we never even thought of.”

To show what can be done, the PTO’s development page is showcasing a visualization that charts the percentage of utility patents granted to U.S. versus foreign applicants. Foreign grants topped domestic ones for the first time ever in 2007 and have remained higher.

Another chart traces the allowance rate, or percentage of patents granted out of all those applied for, by field; applicants for patents in chemistry and physical processes have fared best. Yet another breaks down yearly patent filings by U.S. research universities. (Whoa, Massachusetts Institute of Technology!)

Most of the tool’s users so far have been companies, Beach said. He hopes, though, that more individual inventors, educators and others will begin making visualizations. One good idea for inventors, for instance, would be to use the PTO’s “patents view” tool to create a narrow search of patents for similar inventions so inventors can ensure their brainchild is unique, he said.

“No one wants to look through 9 million patents to find what they need,” Beach said.