Monday, February 27, 2006

19th c. Patent Digests in Google Book Search

In December 2004, Google announced a partnership with four university libraries and the New York Public Library to scan and digitize millions of the books in their collections, many of them copyrighted. The goal of Google Book Search, as the project is called, is to make the full text of books owned by the world's leading libraries and publishing houses available on-line within a decade.

While publishers and copyright owners have been successful in curbing Google's efforts to scan works still protected by copyright, GBS is scanning older publications and materials not covered under copyright. This is a boon to researchers who want access to 19th and 20th century U.S. government documents, which are not copyrighted. For example, inventors, genealogists and historians can now access a few indexes and digest of patents published by the U.S. Patent Office in the mid-19th century. One example (bearing a Harvard Library bookplate) is:

A digest of patents issued by the United States including the years 1839, 1840, and 1841
to which is added the present laws relating to patents
Henry L. Ellsworth, Commissioner of Patents
Washington: William Greer, 1842

The digest list patents under the twelve classes of the U.S. patent classification system in alphabetical order by title. A separate section includes the text of patent laws up to August 1842.

As Google Book Search grows, more patent indexes and digests are sure to appear. In a short time it may be possible for anyone to browse by inventor name or subject the 19th century U.S. patent record. Of course, the USPTO web site already has a database of scanned images of U.S. patents back to 1790. However, patents prior to January 1976 can only be retrieved by patent number or current classification. Inventor name and title are not searchable. The presence of 19th century patent indexes in Google Book Search will make it easier for researchers to locate patents by inventor name, date and subject.