Thursday, March 20, 2008

Patent Search Tip #1 -- The Responsible Use of Google Patent Search

Google Patent Search??

I was pretty excited about this, too. But be careful, it's not the miracle website that will make patent searching easy. It is, however, a useful tool to have in your patent searching arsenal.

Here's my take on Google Patent Search:

The goods:

  • Google Patent features excellent images of full patents. If you've ever tried to view a complete patent in the USPTO database, you're familiar with their Alternatiff software, the clunky interface, and images that sometimes never appear. If you have a patent number or an inventor, this is a great way to retrieve a clear PDF copy of the original patent.
  • Advanced search features are easy to use. Or at least easier than the advanced search at the UPSTO database. One caveat, though: searching is not this tool's strong suit; easier doesn't mean as accurate as class/subclass searching. But if you have an inventor, an assignee, the complete title, or a patent number, Google can retrieve it without your having to resort to command line searching.
  • Citations and references are linked. This is a good way to explore a particular area of technology. You pull up a patent. The patents cited by that patent are listed. The later patents that cite that patent are listed. Everything is a click away.
The not-so-goods:
  • Class searching doesn't add up with USPTO database. And there's no subclass field, meaning you can bring up everything in a class (usually hundreds or thousands of patents) without narrowing it to subclass. This sort of kills its usefulness as a search tool. And when you do try to view a class, the numbers generally don't match those that come up in the USPTO database. Patent examiners, private attorneys, and agents use the USPTO database, not Google, so even one omission in the Google search results (there are usually many more) makes it unreliable.
  • Keyword searching is not the way to go with patents. Yet keyword searching is the primary means of access with Google. The vocabulary of patent professionals is highly technical; that's why the Index to U.S. Patent Classification is such a valuable tool. You might not know that a Koosh Ball is actually a "Generally Spherical Object with Floppy Filaments to Promote Sure Capture." But you might figure it's a ball, an amusement device, a toy, etc., and the Index will get you from those concepts to the right patent eventually. Google keyword searching will not.
Don't think that I dislike Google Patent Search. In fact, I use it every day. Here's my patent search routine:
  1. Use the index to find a class.
  2. Go to the Class Schedule and look up subclasses.
  3. Click on the "P" in the Schedule to get a list of patents.
  4. Open Google Patents in a new browser window.
  5. Find a patent title that looks good, highlight the number, copy it and paste it into the Google Patents search box.
This will retrieve a copy of the patent, generally as the first result. From there, I download or read a PDF or HTML version of the patent, look at the drawings, and usually go back to the list of patents at the USPTO site and repeat step 5 until I find what I'm looking for.

Beware the easy way out. In patent searching, the recommended tools are still those created by the USPTO that rely on class and subclass searching: CASSIS disks, PubWest, and the USPTO website, all of which are available for anyone here at the Patent and Trademark Center.

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