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Wednesday, 18th July 2007

Resource of the Week: Patent Searching for the Rest of Us

Resource of the Week: Patent Lens
By Shirl Kennedy, Senior Editor

There is an art and science to patent searching. Those who do it regularly for a living can perform magic and make it look easy. But what about those who have only an occasional need...or a sudden flash of intellectual curiosity generated, perhaps, by something we read somewhere (e.g., the rest of us). Well, here's a resource that helps...a lot.

Patent Lens comes to us from Australia, via a science and technology-focused nonprofit called CAMBIA -- originally an acronym for "Center for the Application of Molecular Biology to International Agriculture." As the organization's "public good mandate" has expanded, however, the acronym aspect went away; CAMBIA means "change" in Italian and Spanish.

So what does the international patent system have to do with CAMBIA's "public good mandate"? The FAQ provides a clue:

We created the Patent Lens to shed light and transparency on the patent system. The effects of the patent system as it works now may not match the original intent to benefit society. People affected by it should know the effects, so as to be able to advocate change where it may be needed.

Patent Lens is a searchable full-text database of more than 7 million patents and patent applications from WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), USPTO (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, EPO (European Patent Office), and IP Australia. New bulk data from these agencies is uploaded weekly. See full details of coverage here. They would like to include patent information from additional jurisdictions; you are encouraged to e-mail them with suggestions.

The database also incorporates INPADOC -- "bibliographic data from over 70 countries and legal status data from more than 40 patent authorities" -- which, according to Patent Lens, "can help to give an idea whether a patent application related to one of interest was filed in other countries, and possibly whether patents are in force or applications are still pending."

A fast keyword search can be done right from the home page. (I got 19,306 results for "baseball", to give you some idea of the scope.) But you'll be glad to know that other search options are available.

+ Quick gives you the choice of a simple keyword search box or a search by patent number; a dropdown menu allows you to select one of the four agencies mentioned about that provide the source data. You can turn stemming on or off, select the number of results you want to appear on a single page (10/20/50), and choose to sort by relevance score, patent number, filing date or publication date.

+ Structured offers many opportunities to fine-tune a search. A series of text boxes and dropdown menus allows you to specify which fields to search -- e.g., title, abstract, inventor, assignee, etc.. A small dropdown menu at the top of the form provides a boolean and/or option. You can also search by patent number here, and choose to filter your results by publication or filing date (or predicted expiration date for U.S. patents). Stemming, item number and sorting options are available here, too.

+ The Expert search page provides a text box in which you can construct a complex query using various Boolean options -- although you can't restrict by date here as you can with the Structed search. But the same filtering, stemming, display and sorting options are available.

+ BLAST Search is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. It uses the National Center for Biotechnology Information's BLAST technology "to search sequences that are specifically listed in U.S. patents and published patent applications." This is not for the faint of heart...or the newbie, but detailed help is available as you mouse over the various links on the page.

You can also find detailed help for the other search options. (If you summon this page by clicking on the links on the search pages, use your browser's options to open it in a separate tab or window, or it may pop up in a window that is too small for easy browsing/reading).

If there's a search you'd like to run regularly, you can subscribe to an RSS feed for it after the first time you execute it. Do this for as many searches as you like. Other RSS feeds are available here, for general intellectual property news, and for the site's discussion forums on Patent Lens itself, patent informatics, intellectual property, and "technology landscapes."
By the way, Gary briefly mentioned Patent Lens in a post here last December. The same post also included some other patent search resources, such as:
+ Google Patent Search (easy, but with a number of limitations)
+ FreePatentsOnline (which offers several fee-based data delivery and analysis services)
+ IP Newsflash Patent Family Search (based on INPADOC data)
+ Clearly Understood (concept searching for patents)
+ Freshpatents.com (loaded with RSS feeds)
+ Delphion (U.S. only, unless you're a paying subscriber)
+ Braindex (worldwide; they'll throw in a "free" 3 day, 2 night vacation if you buy their Patent Downloader software for $99.95)
+ The Canadian Intellectual Property Office database ("75 years of patent descriptions and images")

Finally...almost forgot...for those who are REALLY, REALLY into patents...about a week ago, Gary mentioned the Peer-to-Patent Community Patent Review, built and maintained by New York Law School with full cooperation from the USPTO. Register here and you can actually "(h)elp the USPTO find the information relevant to assessing the claims of pending patent applications."


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