Sunday, December 30, 2007

U.S. Patent and PGPub Year-End Review

2007 was a bit of a mixed bag for U.S. patents and published applications. In Q4 the USPTO published 73,450 applications, the lowest number in more than a year and a 3 percent drop from the same quarter in 2006. However, the total number of PGPubs for the calendar year was 300,198, a 1.87 percent increase over 2006. This is the first year that PGPubs have exceeded the 300,000 mark. Approximately 1.6 million applications have been published since 2001. The USPTO issued 45,401 patents in Q4, a 3 percent decline from the same period in 2006. The total number of patents issued in 2007 dropped to 183,128, which is 13,485 or 6.86 percent fewer than 2006. Weekly issues and PGpubs were relatively stable with few peaks or canyons. (See Table 2.)
According the the USPTO's FY2007 annual report released in November, inventors set another record for new filings, submitting 467,243 applications, a 4.85 percent increase over 2006. In order to deal with this continuing growth the USPTO hired another 1,215 examiners in FY2007, bringing the total patent examining corps to 5,477. Despite the additional staff the backlog of pending patent applications grew to 1,112,517, a 10.82 percent increase over FY2006.

Table 1. Quarterly Patent and PGPub Counts*

Quarter ..... Patents ..... PGPubs ..... Totals

Q1 ..... 47,332 ..... 74,277 ..... 121,609

Q2 ..... 45,828 ..... 76,640 ..... 122,468

Q3 ..... 44,567 ..... 75,831 ..... 120,398

Q4 ..... 45,401 ..... 73,450 ..... 118,851

2007 ..... 183,128 ..... 300,198 ..... 483,326

*Based on weekly data from the USPTO's PatFT and AppFT databases. Weekly totals may change after the fact due to withdrawn patents and published applications.

Table 2. Weekly Averages and Medians for 2007

Patents ..... 3,515 ..... 3,539

PGPubs ..... 5,762 ..... 5,659

Table 3. Number Ranges for 2007

Patents ..... 7,155,746 - 7,313,828
Reissues ..... RE39,452 - RE39,963

PGPubs ..... 2007/0000001 - 2007/0300346

Designs ..... D534,332 - D558,425

Plants ..... PP17,326 - PP18,372

SIRs ..... H2,177 - H2,207

Table 4. Withdrawn Patent and PGPub Numbers in 2007

Patents ..... 831

PGPubs ..... 143

Predictions for 2008

Last year I predicted that the USPTO would adopt series code 12 for utility and plant patent applications before the end of 2007. We won't know for sure for a few months, but the USPTO is on track to run out of serial numbers for series 11 before the end of the year. Recently published applications filed in September have serial numbers in the 850,000-855,000 range. Applications are published 18 months from the earliest priority filing date (provisional or foreign), which means that many new applications are published 6 months (or less) after filing. So it looks like series 12 will be appearing on or about Jan. 1. Series code 11 was adopted on Dec. 1, 2004.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Canadians Too Lazy to Invent?

A recent op-ed in the Globe and Mail (Dec. 27) uses patent statistics to make the case that Canada, in general, and the province of Alberta, specifically, needs to focus more on math, science and the creative arts in schools in order to ensure future prosperity. The writer argues that since Canada is about one-tenth the size of the U.S., Canadian inventors should have been granted 240,000 U.S. patents over the last twenty years. Instead, they have received only 77,594.

Although I agree that Canada needs to do more to cultivate innovation rather than rely on natural resources for economic growth, I'm generally skeptical about such comparisons. In fact, I believe that patent statistics show that Canadians are among the most inventive, creative people in the world.

Let's take a broader look at patenting trends among the G8 countries over the last few years. With just over 33 million people, Canada is the smallest country in the G8, yet since 2000 Canadian inventors have been granted nearly as many U.S. patents as their counterparts in France and Great Britain, which have populations almost twice as large. In terms of the per capita number of patents issued, Canada, with about 1000 people per patent, ranks second after Japan (488:1) and Germany (857:1) and well ahead of France (1702:1), Italy (3458:1) and Russia (60991:1).

A much more interesting statistic, in my opinion, is the fact that Canadian residents apply for and receive far fewer patents in Canada than the U.S. In 2006, Canadian inventors filed 10,243 U.S. patent applications and were granted 3,743 patents, but filed only 5,348 Canadian patent applications and received 1,495 patents. Obviously, this might be explained by the fact that Canadian inventors believe they can get more bang for their buck in the U.S., where the consumer and venture capital markets are much larger.

Table 1. G8 Patenting Trends, 2000-2007*

Country / Pop. / U.S. Patents

Canada / 33,390,141 / 34,702
France / 60,876,136 / 35,765
Germany / 82,400,996 / 96,102
Italy / 58,147,733 / 16,814
Japan / 127,433,494 / 289,628
Russia / 141,377,752 / 2,318
United Kingdom / 60,776,238 / 38,579
United States / 300,000,000 / 668,807

*Based on data from USPTO patent databases and annual reports.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

E-Documents as Prior Art

Wynn Coggins, director for the USPTO's Group 3620 (Electronic Commerce), has written an article called "When is an Electronic Document a Printed Publication for Prior Art Purposes?

New Report: Patents per 100K Workers, 2001-2006

The State Science and Technology Institute (SSTI), a nonprofit organization that supports economic development through science, technology and innovation, has released a new report showing the ranking in number of patents issued per 100,000 workers for U.S. states and the District of Columbia from 2001-2006.

West coast states improved the most over the five-year period with Washington and Oregon ranked #1 and #2 and California at #4. In the farm belt, Kansas (#4) and Oklahoma (#7) showed strong growth, as did Massachusetts (#3) and Rhode Island (#6) in New England, which has been a hub of innovation for 150 years. Minnesota, Georgia and Colorado rounded out the top ten. Surprisingly, Idaho, which ranked #1 in all five years, had the fouth largest decline (-18.7), dropping from 328.2 patents per 100K workers in 2001 to 266.8 per worker in 2006. Idaho is in no danger of losing its #1 rank anytime soon, thanks to Boise-based Micron Technology, Inc., one of the top-ten patenting companies in the U.S. The Gem State's two closest competitors, California and Vermont mustered only 161.5 and 160.3 patents per worker in 2006.

Patents Per 100K Workers
% Change 2001-2006

1. Washington 46%
2. Oregon 36.8
3. Massachusetts 14.1
4. Kansas 13.4
5. California 12.9
6. Rhode Island 11
7. Oklahoma 7.7
8. Minnesota 6.3
9. Georgia 6.2
10. Colorado 5.9

EPO Survey: esp@cenet Exporting Function

The EPO is conducting a survey on a proposed improvement to esp@cenet scheduled for 2008. Specifically, they're asking for feedback on the usefulness of exporting data in CSV or XML formats.

Currently, the only patent office database (that I'm aware of) that supports exporting is the German PTO's DEPATISnet. You can download bib data in an Excel spreadsheet from up to 250 records at a time.

This is a wonderful development.
At my university a number of engineering and business students take entrepreneurship courses that require them to use patent data to identify key companies/innovators, develop market profiles and analyze long-term industry trends. Being able to export data from esp@cenet would save them a lot of time. In my opinion, CSV is more useful than XML, especially for users such as students and private inventors who are not familiar with XML, since it can be easily imported into a spreadsheet for analysis.

If you're an esp@cenet user and would like to provide feedback, go to the esp@cenet forum at and look in the Information Channel. You will need to register in order to submit comments and vote.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dutch Six-Year Patent Will End in 2008

The Netherlands Patent Office has announced that it will phase out its six-year patent (C1 document) in 2008. The six-year patent is a weaker form of patent protection than the standard 20-year patent. An application for a six-year patent is automatically registered without a novelty search or examination 18 months after filing. According to the agency's latest annual report, 602 6-year patents and 1,771 20-year patents were granted in 2005. Of all patents granted, over 50 percent went to private inventors and companies of 1-200 employees.

Obama Promises More Transparency for Patent System

According to a story last month in the World Information Review, presidential candidate Barack Obama would make patent reform a top priority of his administration. One of his ideas is to open up the patent process to citizen input, which I assume would entail establishing a formal patent review program similar to the Community Patent Review Project being piloted by the New York Law School. I'm skeptical that such a system can have a meaningful impact on patent quality. To date, the Peer-to-Patent Project has registered 1,650 reviewers, an impressive number, but they have submitted only 94 pieces of prior art relating to 17 pending applications. Identifying prior art requires deep expertise and excellent analytical skills. Are there really that many qualified people willing to volunteer their time doing such complex work? Or would this just be an open invitation to cranks with time on their hands?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Inventors Hit the Links

I'm not a golfer but I know that golf is one of the world's most popular sports. According to the PGA website, there are 25 million amateur golfers in the U.S. alone. This huge multi-billion dollar industry is fertile ground for inventors seeking to cash in on golfers' legendary passion for anything that promises to improve their game or ease their journey across the fareway. Fans of Caddy Shack will remember Rodney Dangerfield's golf bag equipped with a wet bar, stereo and club dispenser. Professional golf associations, like the PGA, have strict rules on what technological improvements can be allowed. For example, a few years ago two physics professors at Cal Tech invented a ball that would not slice. Their design placed dimples only at the opposite ends of the ball, which greatly improved its aerodynamics. In response, the PGA prohibited balls that did not have a uniform dimple pattern on the entire surface.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when I stumbled upon a show on the Golf Channel called Fore Inventors Only. The concept is similar to other invention shows such as American Inventor and Everyday Edisons. A panelist of three golf pros, Stina Sternberg, Bill Harmon and Fulton Allem, were recruited to judge hundreds of golf-related inventions. The grand prize was shelf space at Golfsmith stores for one year and $50,000 in commercial air time on the Golf Channel.

I watched several episodes of this addicting show, and actually liked it better than the other invention shows I've seen. For one thing, the judges were far more professional than the grand standing panel on American Inventor.

Many of the inventions were training devices for improving a golfer's swing or stance. Some of the more bizarre ideas included an electronic caddy that offered encouragement in a grating, robot-like voice; a ball with markings that alinged with the earth's magnetic field; and an golf ball shooting air rifle designed for people with disabilities who want to play golf but could not swing a club. The grand prize went to the inventor of the Club Caddy, an oversized clothspin that attaches to a club shaft to form a tripod that will keep the club upright.

The number of golf inventions is vast. According to esp@cenet, there are some 10,000 patents and published applications for golf clubs and another 6,000 for golf balls, not to mention more than 700 golf training devices.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Big News in Patent Information Land

Joe Ebersole, founder and chief counsel for the Coalition for Patent and Trademark Information Dissemination, died on Oct. 18 in Washington, D.C. There's a brief obit in the December issue of Information Today (not yet available online) and the Washington Post (10/21). Mr. Ebersole was part of the generation that launched the modern information industry in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1980s he worked as director of special projects for Mead Central Data (Lexis-Nexis) and in that capacity was responsible for creating Lexpat, the world's first full-text patent system. He later moved into medical information systems.

In the 1990s he established the Coalition in order to oppose patent office efforts to make patent information available on the internet. While Ebersole was often described as a consultant to USPTO management on matters relating to patent automation, he was, in fact, a registered lobbyist whose clients included some of the largest commercial patent information vendors. He worked tirelessly to block the USPTO from improving its website. In my opinion, his influence is one of the reasons why the USPTO web-based patent databases are so under-developed compared to those of other patent offices.

Ebersole's philosophy was straightforward: patent offices had no business providing online patent information to the public that could be provided more efficiently (and at a substantial profit) by private sector vendors. [Ebersole, WPI, 2003] Of course, he conveniently ignored the fact that vendors built their search systems (developed in part with government grants and contracts) using patent data obtained from patent offices at nominal rates. In recent years many vendors have enhanced their products by linking to free patent data on patent office websites, thus avoiding the cost of storing the data and images on their own systems. Ebersole also claimed that resources spent on external information dissemination would be better spent improving internal operations for the benefit of inventors. This is a very old argument. U.S. patent commissioners in the 1870s and 1880s faced similar criticism when they began publishing a weekly gazette of patent abstracts and annual patent indexes.

The Coalition has had little impact outside the U.S. where there is greater support for patent information dissemination as a public good and a means of encouraging economic development. For example, the European Patent Office has continuously improved its esp@cenet system since it was first launched in 1998, adding 60 million patents from more than 70 countries, patent legal status and family data, enabling patent document downloading and printing, etc. According to recent articles and interviews with Wolfgang Pilch, the EPO's principal director for patent information, there are even greater things in store for esp@cenet in 2008. For example, the EPO is investigating the possibility of adding chemical structure and synonym searching.

In retrospect, the views of Mr. Ebersole and his clients were out of step with the times. In the late 1990s citizens in developed countries went online in huge numbers. Libraries, universities and government agencies at all levels turned to the internet as a means of delivering better, more effective services to their constituents. For example, the USPTO is extremely proud of its online patent and trademark application systems, which now handle 50 and 95 percent, respectively, of all new filings. Ebersole and the Coalition's arguments were also undermined by the emergence of other free independent patent databases such as FreePatentsOnline, Google Patents and Patent Lens. These services, which were created by small groups (or individuals) for a variety of entrepreneurial and idealistic motives, offer capabilities that are as good or better than many patent office websites. It will be interesting to see if the Coalition survives without Ebersole at the helm.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Plant Patents & Canadian Pears

Plant patents rarely make the news, so I was delighted to see a story in this weekend's Globe and Mail about a new type of pear cultivated by a team of Canadian scientists. The pear, which is known only by the designation "HW614", is a cross between several types of pears including the familiar Bartletts. It's described as juicy, sweet and huge, "up to four inches in diameter". Presumably Agriculture Canada will come up with a catchier name by the time the pear is ready for market in several years.

David Hunter, one of the scientists responsible for creating the new pear, holds three plant patents on pears identified as "HW610" (marketed as "Harrow Crisp"), "HW616" (marketed as "Harrow Gold") and "Harrow Sweet", but none for "HW614". Perhaps a application is in the works. Most of the research on pears is done at the University of Guelph's Vineland research station, near St. Catherines, Ontario.

The patent classification for pears is PLT/176 with subclasses for Ornamental (PLT/177), Asian (PLT/178) and Rootstock (PLT/179). Since 1930 the USPTO has issued approximately 80 patents for pears.

U.S. Patent Counts, July-Sept. 2007

Quarterly Patent and PGPub Counts

Q1 || 47,332 | 74,277 | 121,609
Q2 || 45,828 | 76,640 | 122,468
Q3 || 44,567 | 75,831 | 120,398
Q4 ||

The third quarter of 2007 was relatively unremarkable with both patents (utility, design reissue and plant) and published applications experiencing a slight decline from the previous quarter. Published applications were down one percent to 75,831 but up a percentage point over the same quarter last year. Patents dropped 2.75 percent to 44,567, which was a decline of 11 percent from Q3 in 2006. Patents averaged about 3,500 per week, virtually unchanged from Q2, with only two weeks below the 3,000 mark. Published applications averaged 5,833 per week, hitting a high for the quarter of 6,595 on August 14. At this rate, the USPTO is on track to break 300,000 for the total number of published applications in a year. Since 2001, the USPTO has published approximately 1.5 million utility and plant patent applications.

In related news, GlaxoSmith filed a last-minute suite in federal court to prevent the USPTO from implementing its new patent rules which, among other things, limit the number of continuation applications an applicant may file. The USPTO hopes the new rules will reduce the number of applications.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Google Patents Delivers 2007 Patents

Patent searchers have been wondering for months when Google would update Google Patents, its database of U.S. patents launched in mid-2006. Although the USPTO publishes up to 10,000 new patent documents per week, Google Patents hasn't been updated since it was launched some sixteen months ago.... that is, until now.

I was running some test searches this evening and noticed some very recent patents turning up in the search results. Sure enough, it appears that GP now includes some issued patents through at least August 2007, although it's unclear if the data is complete. The Google Patents FAQ still insists that coverage is from 1790 to June 2006.

I also noticed that GP is no longer claiming to provide access to current U.S. Patent Classification data. The advanced search form classification field and patent record display are now labelled "U.S. Classification" rather than "Current U.S. Classification". The classification data appears to be the classification at issue.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Chemical Structure Searching in Free Patent Databases?

The ability to search chemical compounds in public patent databases has always been very limited. Unlike commercial databases such as SciFinder Scholar, public patent databases have not offered tools for searching compounds by structure or formula. Nor do they include dictionaries of chemical synonyms. Searchers are pretty much limited to running keyword searches for chemical names, a time-consuming and highly inaccurate approach. This might change in the near future.

This week in Barcelona, Spain, Dr. Nigel Clarke of the European Patent Office is giving a presentation at the ICIC International Conference in Trends for Scientific Information Professionals on the possibility of adding a chemical structure search option to esp@cenet, the EPO's free patent database. The EPO recently surveyed esp@cenet users and found that there was much interest from the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

This is interesting because it would the first time a national patent office has offered this type of very specialized search function. In general, patent offices design their online databases for the general public.

Most Prolific Inventors

Contrary to popular opinion, Thomas Edison is not the world's most prolific inventor. So says technology writer Kevin Maney in the November issue of Condé Nast Portfolio. Although Edison received an impressive 1,093 U.S. patents during his lifetime, Maney has uncovered at least three living inventors, including one American, who beat Edison's record. They are:

Shunpei Yamazaki (Japan) - 1,811 U.S. patents
Kia Silverbrook (Australia) - 1,646
Donald Weder (U.S.) - 1,350

Maney also identifies the most prolific women inventors and a few up-and-coming inventors with more than 500 patents. Curiously, he doesn't mention Jerome Lemelson, the king of submarine patents, who has at least 570 U.S. patents and another 19 pending applications. Lemleson continues to score patents although he died in 1997.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Baby Products, Patent Numbers and a Puzzle

My wife and I are going to be new parents any day now, so our house has been filling up with all kinds of cool baby-related products. (We're having twins, so that means two of everything.) Of course, I can't resist examing all these amazing products for patent numbers. One product that piqued my interest was a rubber diaper fastener called the Snappi. It's a rubber T-shaped cord with plastic teeth that's supposed to be safer than safety pins. I thought it looked like a trap for miniature beavers, but it worked well enough in practice trials on Winnie-the-Pooh.

The back of the Snappi label had a patent application number that looked odd to me. It said "Pat. Appl. 2005/01115". U.S. published application (aka PGPubs) have publication numbers in the format "YYYY/nnnnnnnn", so I went to the USPTO website and keyed in 20050001115. No luck. US 2005/0001115 is an application for a collapsible dishwashing stand. I then tried searching it as an application number in both the USPTO and esp@cenet databases. Again no luck. It didn't look like a Canadian, European or Japanese patent number, so I was quickly becoming stumped. Pooh was too busy admiring his first-class diaper job to offer any helpful advice.

Luckily, the Snappi label also carried the number of a registered trademark, 1,773,066. I switched over to the USPTO trademark database and quickly retrieved the trademark registration for SNAPPI, owned by Snappi Holdings of Pretoria, South Africa. Searching Snappi as the assignee in the USPTO patent database then led me to inventor Hendrik Visser and his patent on a "Diaper or babies napkin fastener", (5,077,868) and two design patents (D321,673 and D320,575) for diaper fasteners invented by Japie Crafford. All three patents closely resemble our Snappi fasteners, but I never did find a patent document numbered 2005/01115. Visser has several other patents and patent applications for related products.

I did notice that the three U.S. patents listed South African applications as priority documents, and the numbers were in a "YY/nnnn" format. So my best guess was that "2005/01115" is a new South Africa application filed by Snappi. It might be too recent to have been loaded in the esp@cenet database (if it's even been published). As I slumped back into my chair, it occured to me that patent numbers are not always as straightforward as you might think.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

2007 Lasker Awards

The 2007 Lasker Awards, sometimes called "America's Nobels", were announced on Sept. 15.

The Lasker Award for Outstanding Basic Medical Research was awarded to Dr. Steinman of Rockefellar University for his discovery of dendritic cells, a type of immune cell that plays a key role in the immune systems of humans and other mammals. His research has led to new insights into HIV, allergies and other autoimmune diseases. Dr. Steinman has received at least a dozen U.S. patents
(5,851,756, 5,994,126, 6,602,709, 7,198,948, etc.) related to his research.

Drs. Albert Starr of the Providence Health System in Portland, Oregon and Alain Carpentier of Hopital Europeen Georges Pompidou in Paris will share the Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research for their contributions to open-heart surgery. In 2000, Dr. Starr received a U.S. patent (6,045,576) for a sewing ring used in the implantation of prosthetic heart valves. He has also received patents for his invention in Australia (AU727250), Canada (CA2303289), Europe (EP1600127) and Japan (JP3701198). Dr. Carpentier has received more than 30 U.S. patents for various devices related to heart surgery, including several prosthetic heart valves (4,106,129, 4,790,843, 5,814,100, 6,558,418, etc.), and has filed dozens of patent applications worldwide.

The Lasker Awards have been awarded by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation in almost every year since 1944.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New USPC Classification Orders

The USPTO has recently issued several new classification orders affecting Classes 375 (Pulse or Digital Communications), 386 (Television Signal Processing for Dynamic Recording or Reproduction) and 525 (Synthetic Resins or Rubbers).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

WIPO Proposes Supplementary International Patent Search

The WIPO General Assembly is likely to approve a supplementary international patent search, according to comments made by WIPO Deputy Director Francis Gurry quoted in IP Watch. This will allow applicants to request a supplemental search from another patent office other than a designated international search authority. For example, an applicant could request an initial search from the USPTO and a supplemental search by the Chinese patent office. The goal of this proposal is to improve the quality of searches across multiple languages.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Downloading Foreign Patents

When I need to download a copy of a patent for myself or a client, I usually go right to esp@cenet. Since esp@cenet includes ~60 million patent documents from more than 70 countries, the odds of finding a patent or at least a family member are very good. However, sometimes I discover that esp@cenet won't let me download the patent I want because it is too long (~80 pages or more). This is no big deal if it's a US patent... there are plenty of other websites where I can download PDF copies of US patents. But if it's a patent from another country, things get a bit more complicated... Below are a few alternate patent sites that don't have page-limit restrictions.

PatentScope (WIPO)
PatentScope is a database of published international PCT applications maintained by the World Intellectual Property Office. You can download copies of PCT applications and cited national priority applications in PDF or TIFF formats. If your patent or application was cited as priority document in a PCT application, you should be able to obtain a PDF copy from the PatentScope record. How do you know if your patent was cited in a PCT application? Easy: simply look up the patent family in esp@cenet and check any PCT applications that are included.

DEPATISnet (German PTO)
DEPATISnet is esp@cenet's little brother, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in smarts. DEPATISnet doesn't cover nearly as many countries as esp@cenet but it does cover the major and several minor patent offices. Documents are stored in PDF and can be easily downloaded with no page limit restrictions. (I recently used DepatisNet to retrieve a copy of a 121-page German patent application from 1975.)

Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) System (USPTO)
If the desired foreign patent was cited in a US patent issued after June 30, 2003, a PDF copy should be available in the electronic file wrapper stored in the Public PAIR system. You can find US patents that cite foreign by searching the number in the FREF field in the PatFT database. If you get a hit, simply retrieve the US patent's file wrapper from PAIR and look up the foreign reference. All cited foreign patents are labeled "foreign reference", so you may have to look at a few until you find the right one.

GCN Report on USPTO e-Filing System

Government Computer News has a report on the success of the USPTO's new e-filing system, EFS-Web. Since the system went into full product in March 2006, the USPTO has:
  • Seen new applications filed electronically rise to 60 percent
  • Received 850,000 application and other documents via EFS-Web
  • Trained 30,000 people to use EFW-Web
  • Saved $7.8 million

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Clothing Design Patents

<-- The "Frau Blucher" <-- The "Rosie the Riveter"

<-- The "Marian the Librarian"

Here are a few clothing design patents from the mid 1940s. Not exactly stylish by today's standards, but hey, there was a war on.

As I reported a few days ago, clothing designers rec'd thousands of design patents in the 1930s and 1940s.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

US Classification Tools - New Feature

The USPTO's online classification search system has a new feature that will make browsing classification schedules much easier. Users can now use an "Outline" feature to collapse any schedule from its normal full display to just its mainline through level five indents. Users can also click on -/+ symbols on the left side of the schedule to collapse or expand individual sections.

Fig. 1. Outline On/Off and Level Menu are Located at the Top of the Schedule

Fig. 2. Class 623 Collapsed to Mainline Indents

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Fashion Designers Look to Copyright, Not Design Patents

An article in today's New York Times discusses the growing threat that high-end fashion designers face from low-cost imitations of their most popular clothing designs. Their industry trade group is lobbying Congress to extend copyright design to clothing. Copyright already protects fabric, textile and jewelry designs, and patterns for sewing, knitting, needlepoint, etc. In some cases, trademark and trade dress law will protect a unique clothing design or element such as the stitching on a pair of jeans.

The fashion industry seems to have forgotten that clothing is eligible for design patent protection. Perhaps copyright's longer term (the life of the author plus 70 years or 95 years for works made for hire) is simply more attractive than the 14-year term for design patents. Or perhaps copyright is more difficult to "design around" than design patents.

But there was a time in the mid-20th century when clothing designers loved design patents. In fact, approximately 15 percent of the design patents issued in the 1930s and 1940s were for apparel and haberdashery designs (Class D2 in the USPC). Many of these designs were for dresses, robes, pants and other garments typically sold in department stores and mom-and-pop clothing stores.

Curiously, clothing design patents took a nosedive on the catwalk in the 1950s and 60s, and bell-bottomed out in the 1970s. Only 2 percent of the design patents issued in the 1970s are in Class D2, which also includes footwear. They rebounded in the 1980s and 1990s thanks to the growing market for athletic shoes. Almost 50 percent of the D2 design patents issued since 1990 were assigned to Adidas, Nike and Reebok.

Why did the fashion industry turn its back on design patents? Was it a change in patent law? Unlikely, since a few clothing designs are still patented each year.

Clothing Design Patents, 1900-2007

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Politicians and Patents

Although politicians make patent laws, very few have had any real first-hand experience as inventors.

Perhaps the best known politician-inventor is President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, an attorney from Springfield, Illinois who had a life-long interest in inventions, received patent No. 6,469 on May 22, 1849 for a method of buoying vessels over shoals. (Amazingly, Lincoln filed his patent application only 73 days earlier on March 10—a pendency no modern inventor could hope for!)

The least known politician-inventor may very well be Harold LeClair Ickes, also of Illinois. Technically, Ickes was not a politician since he never held elected office. But he was politically active and campaigned for various progressive Republicans in the 1910s and 1920s. And In 1933, Ickes was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a position he would hold until 1946. Independently-minded and honest, Ickes is noted for his competent management of the Public Works Administration, opposition to corruption and hostility toward facism.

When he wasn't out campaigning for progressive causes, Ickes was an avid gardener and cultivator of dahlias. Shortly after Congress enacted a new law extending patent protection to certain asexually reproduced plants, Ickes applied for and received a plant patent for a new variety of dahlia that had an unusual and striking blend of colors described as coral red and Eugenie red. Unlike Lincoln, who had a response in less than three months, Ickes would have to wait 1 year, 5 months and 1 day for his patent.

Harold Ickes' Dahlia, Plant Patent No. 19

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

U.S. Patent Counts, April-June 2007

Table 1. Patent Counts, Week 1-26, 2007

Quarterly Patent and PGPub Counts

Q1 | 47,332 | 74,277 | 121,609
Q2 | 45,828 | 76,640 | 122,468
Q3 |
Q4 |

Published patent applications (A docs) surged in Q2, setting two new records for weekly and quarterly totals. On June 28, the USPTO published 7,082 A docs, an all-time high. The average number of A docs per week in Q2 was 5,895. The total number of A docs for the quarter was 76,640, a 4.1 percent increase over the same period in 2006. The total number for January through June was 150,917. At this rate, the total number of A docs published in 2007 could easily exceed 300,000, which is still significantly short of the 450,000-475,000 new applications the USPTO will receive this year. It is almost certain that new records will be set in the second half of the year and into 2008.

Patent issues (utility, design, reissue and plant) remained flat in Q2, averaging only 3,525 patents per week. The total number of patents issued in Q2 was 45,828, a 16.3 percent decline from the same period in 2006. The total number of patents issued from January through June was 93,160. At this rate, the USPTO will issue approximately 186,000 patents in 2007, a decline of about 5.4 percent over 2006.

The graph above shows the "peaks and canyons" phenomena that has been so typical of U.S. patent counts over the past year. The "peaks" are spikes in the number of published A docs, gradually increasing in frequency and size over the past six months. Patent issues, on the other hand, are relatively stable from week to week with an occassional drop off that produces a "canyon" in the otherwise flat profile.

Changes are afoot at the USPTO that could in the near future impact the output of A docs and issued patents. The USPTO has introduced rules that would limit the number of continuing applications an applicant could file. Since, according to the USPTO, up to one third of all new applications are continuations, this could lead to a decline in the number of new filings. Which is exactly what the USPTO is expecting (and praying for).

Statistics are compiled from the USPTO patent (PatFT) and published application (AppFT) databases.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

ChemSpider Adds Patent Data

Despite the proliferation of open access patent databases over the last ten years, chemists and life scientists have found it difficult to search for patents related to chemical compounds. This is largely due to the fact that patent offices do not index their patents by chemical name, structure, registry number, etc. Although the USPC and IPC have extensive chemisty classifications, many chemists find patent classification difficult to use and of limited value.

There have been recent unsuccessful attempts to incorporate patent data into open access chemistry databases. Several years ago, the American Chemical Society, which publishes Chemical Abstracts, pressured the NIH to drop plans to integrate patent data into the agency's PubChem database of small molecules.

Researchers now have a new way to find patent information related to chemical substances. ChemSpider(Beta), a new open access chemistry database and federated search engine released in March of this year, recently added patent data from U.S., European and Asian patent offices. Users can search more than 16.5 million chemical compounds in ChemSpider by structure, property, and various indentifiers including systematic name, synonym, trade name, registry number, SMILES or InChI.

For example, the ChemSpinder record for the arthritis drug Celebrex, links to 382 related U.S. patents as compared to 9 patents listed in the FDA's Orange Book. The Orange Book only includes patent data for unexpired patents.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Peer-to-Patent Program

Nice article explaining the goals and expectations of the new pilot patent peer review program sponsored by the USPTO and New York Law School.

Peer-to-patent pilot steers toward change

Thursday, August 16, 2007

U.S. Patent Coverage in Scirus

Yesterday I posted some detailed information about patent coverage in Scirus. Here is a more detailed breakdown for U.S. patent coverage:

Utility patents, 1790s-
Reissue patents, 1870s-
Design patents, 1976-
Plant patents, 1976-
Defensive publications, not included
Statutory invention registrations, 1985-
Additional improvement patents, not included

Defensive publications and additional improvement patents appear not to be included at all. Additional improvement patents were allowed from 1836 to 1861. Only about 320 issued. The USPTO registered 4,488 defensive publications from 1968 through 1988. DPs are published abstracts of unexamined patent applications. The entire file of a DP, including a copy of the application as filed, may purchased from the USPTO. DPs were superseded by statutory invention registrations (SIRs) in 1985. Both additional improvement patents and defensive publications are available in the USPTO patent database.

Scirus covers plant and design patents from 1976 forward. Design patents were first registered in 1842 and plant patents in 1931.

You can retrieve a specific US patent by searching the number as a keyword using the following formats:

Utlity USnnnnnn
Plant USPPnnnnn
Design USDnnnnn
Reissue USREnnnnn

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Patent Reform - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

There has been a lot of hot air this summer regarding patent reform legislation. Depending on what you read, the proposed Patent Act of 2007 will either 1) Save the U.S. Patent System or 2) Destroy the U.S. Patent System. Since there are several provisions that would affect patent documents (for example, mandatory 18-month publication) librarians who work with patent information should be aware of the issues. Here are a couple of articles that cut through the rhetoric and legalese and provide simple overviews of the key issues and players.

Guide to Current Patent Reform Legislation
ipFrontline, 10 Aug 2007

Patent Reform - Why Being in the Middle is the Right Place
IPO President Marc Adler

Scirus Patent Coverage Details

Scirus, the free scientific information search engine provided by Elsevier, includes millions of sci-tech documents, including data for some 21 million patents obtained from LexisNexis. Here's an exact breakdown of Scirus' patent coverage:

EPO from 1978 (grants and pregrants)
JPO from 1976 (pregrants, English abstracts only)
UK from 1916 (pregrants)
USPTO from 1790 (grants#) and 2001 (pregrants*)
WIPO from 1978 (pregrants**)

# US coverage does not appear to include plant patents before 1976.
* The USPTO began publishing utility and plant patent applications in 2001.
** Published PCT applications.

Many thanks to Danianne Mizzy of the Engineering Library, University of Pennsylvania for this scoop.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

esp@cenet Survey

The EPO is running an online survey to gather feedback on what users find most and least useful about esp@cenet, and access to free patent information in general.

The EPO has an excellent track record of listening to users, so don't miss this opportunity to suggest improvements. Some improvements I'd like to see are the ability to sort search results and better integration of the ECLA classification search. While I love the ability to search and browse ECLA, transferring ECLA codes to the search form is clunky.

Note to Canadian residents: The survey asks users to identify their location. Unfortunately, Canada was omitted (by accident, I'm sure) from the list of countries. A request for correction has been made.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Perpetual Motion Patents

The Economist tackles perpetual motion machines in an article appropriately titled "Perptual Nonesense". It should be noted that inventors have been pursuing this dream since the beginning of our patent system. Here's what one patent attorney thought about it a century ago:

"The solution of perpetual motion apparently still captivates those who believe in the possible successful solving of such a machine, though the vain efforts of centuries have done nothing beyond showing failure and the wanton waste of energy and money from its votaries. That this Will-o-the-Wisp is still being pursued is evidenced by the continuous so-called new discoveries which are launched with great regularity as the "Eureka" of some mechanical mind".

Source: The Inventor's Universal Educator by Fred G. Dieterich, Washington, D.C., 1911.

Patent Lens Update

Some exciting news about Patent Lens, one of my favourite patent databases...

Patent Lens now includes bibliographic data and full-text images for Australian A and B docs from 1998 to the present. As far as I can tell, this is about the same coverage as esp@cenet (although country code plus year searches are giving me some very odd results for pre-2002). Patent Lens now covers some 7 million patent documents, including US, European and WIPO.

In another very exciting development, it is now possible to search gene sequences using NCBI's BLAST search software. This very cool and powerful tool allows users to search DNA and amino acid sequences in US patent documents. Definitely check it out. Biochemists and biotechnology researchers will love it.

Unfortunately, Patent Lens still doesn't include IPC classifications, making it virtually impossible to do a focused search by subject matter. You can search IPC codes (and national classifications) against the front page text, but this approach is inaccurate and unreliable. Despite this shortcoming, Patent Lens is still one of the most useful and innovative open-source patent search tools on the web.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Hawaiian Patents

During a recent vacation in Hawaii, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful 'Iolani Palace, the official residence of Hawaiian monarchs in the late 1800s and the only royal residence on U.S. territory. The building was constructed between 1879 and 1882 during the reign of King David Kalakaua (1874-1891). Kalakaua wanted the 'Iolani to showcase the independence and sophistication of the Hawaiian people and spared no expense in its construction. It contains slate from Pennsylvania, Italian marble, the finest Hawaiian wood, and steel columns from San Francisco.

Kalakaua, an "early adopter," was a fan of Thomas Edison, whom he met on a trip to the U.S. in 1881, and equipped the 'Iolani with cutting-edge technology imported from around the world. The 'Iolani was the first royal residence in the world to have modern indoor plumbing, electric lighting and a telephone. Even the doors are outfitted with the latest patented transom-lifters designed by John F. Wollensak of Chicago. (A transom is a hinged window located above a door that can be opened for air circulation.) Each transom-lifter lever was labeled with the "PATD" and the date of the issued patents (I've included the numbers in parantheses): March 11, 1873 (#136,801); March 10, 1874 (#148,538); and July 20, 1880 (#RE9,307).

Kalakuau also equipped his Royal Guards with the latest European and American weapons. In the 'Iolani Barracks located next to the Palace you can view two 12 pounder breech-loading cannons designed by William H. Driggs of Washington, D.C. Commander Driggs (1847-1908) was a ordnance designer for the U.S. Navy who patented many improvements in rapid-fire artillery and ammunition. The 'Iolani cannon bear two patent dates, April 5, 1887 (#360,798) and February 28, 1888 (#378,828).

One of the earliest U.S. patents granted to a resident of Hawaii was issued on August 15, 1876 to William Brede, a resident of Lihue on the island of Kanai, for a new improvement in shaping attachments for engine-lathes (#181,032). After touring the 'Iolani, I reflected on the fact that Hawaii in the 1880s, a remote island nation with a tiny population, was both importing and exporting the latest patented technology.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Inventions on the Silver Screen

I enjoy movies about inventors and the process of invention. Many are fun family movies, such as The Absent Minded Professor and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Others lionize inventors, such as Young Thomas Edison and Edison, the Man, both released in 1940, and Francis Ford Coppolo's 1988 film Tucker: the Man and His Dream. My favourites are films that explore the competitive side of invention. One such film I recently read about is a Japanese movie called Black Test Car directed by Yasuzo Masumura. The movie, which was made in 1962, is about industrial espionage between two car manufacturers vying to build new sports cars.

Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

The Globe and Mail's popular "Social Studies" column often reports interesting facts about famous inventors and inventions. Today's column include a few lines about the inventor of sliced bread, Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa. Until the late 1920s, virtually all bread was sold in loaves and sliced by hand. Rohwedder's machine rapidly and economically produced symmetrical slices. (US1867377, US1700854, etc.) According to the European Patent Office's esp@cecet patent database, Rohwedder received at least 26 US and Canadian patents related to bread, including one for a bread display rack (US1591357).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Plant Patent Article in Gardening Newsletter

Plant patents don't usually get much attention in the news, so I was delighted to see a short well-written article on plant patents in the June 2007 issue of Lee Valley & Veritas gardening newsletter. Lee Valley & Veritas is a gardening and woodworking tool retailer in Canada.

In 2006 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued approximately 1,150 plant patents with 432 (38%) awarded to U.S. inventors. The next highest total was the Netherlands with 212 (19%) plant patents. Five plant patents were awarded to Canadian inventors in 2006.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Italian Design and Patents

Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre died yesterday from an apparent massive brain hemorrhage. He was 62. He achieved international fame during his career at Christian Dior, where he was top designer from 1989-1996. Fashion designers work in the space between art and invention, and are not known for filing patent applications. Ferre was no exception. He received only three US design patents for a jewelry chain (D343,372), wristwatch (D294,919) and a "twin-shared pocket for a garment" (D294,651). Of course, these represent just a tiny part of his vast portfolio. His contemporaries Donantello Versace and Giorgio Armani hold 14 and 5 US design patents, respectively. I've always been curious why fashion designers such as Ferre, Armani and Versace even bother with patents in the first place. Is it their decision or their employers?

Friday, May 25, 2007

PCT Publication Date Changes - May 17, Sept. 7, Dec. 21

According to the WIPO, official holidays in Switzerland this year will delay the date of publication for PCT applications as follows:

  • Ascension: Thursday May 17, 2007 - Publication date: Friday, May 18, 2007
  • Jeune Genevois: Thursday, September 6, 2007 - Publication date: Friday, September 7, 2007
  • Eid al-Adha: Thursday, December 20, 2007 - Publication date: Friday, December 21, 2007

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Searching 19th Century Patents

During a recent visit to the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, I snapped this photo of a handsome iron matchbox on display in the museum's 19th century general store. The cover is embossed with a hunting scene... a dog carrying a duck.

It wasn't clear to me when the matchbox was made, but the text "PATD JAN 21 1862" suggests that the design was patented on January 21, 1862. It was common practice in the 19th century to include the date of issue but not the patent number on patented products, especially articles of manufacture. Fortunately, it is possible to retrieve early U.S. patents from the
USPTO database by date of issue and a search (isd/18620121) retrieves some 50 patents issued on Jan. 21, 1862. Flipping through the first ten or so hits, I was able to quickly locate patent no. 34,230, an "improved box for matches" patented by Henry Howson of Philadelphia and assigned to W. F. Warburton. However, the drawings seemed to me to be very different to the finished article. Might there be a later patent? I zipped over to Google Patents and searched "Henry Howson" and found patent no. 39,994 issued on Sept. 15, 1863. The drawings and description in this patent more closely resemble the matchbox above. Howson also cites his 1862 patent. This is a good example of how to trace 19th century patents and why it's never safe to assume that the date embossed on an article of manufacture corresponds to the final patent. It's always wise to check for later improvements.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

U.S. Patent Counts - Jan-Mar 2007

The USPTO issued 47,332 patents in Q1 of 2007, a 5.9% increase over the same period a year ago but only a tiny increase over the previous quarter. Published applications (PGPubs) were also up 5.9% over a year ago, reaching 74,277 documents. This was the third highest quarterly total since 2001 but down slightly from Q4 of 2006.

Quarterly Patent and PGPub Counts

Q0 | Patents| PGPubs | Total
Q1 | 47,332 | 74,277 | 121,609
Q2 |
Q3 |
Q4 |

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Patents Key to Reducing Poverty?

Two recent studies suggest that patents have a key role to play in raising state per capita incomes and overcoming persistent poverty. A working paper published almost a year ago by two staffers of the Federal Bank of Cleveland and professor Scott Shane of Case Western University, suggests that patents and high school/university graduation rates are the most important determinants of per state capita income. A more recent study by researchers at the Univ. of Kentucky's Center for Business and Economic Research reaffirmed the Case Western's findings. (Reported in the SSTI Weekly Digest.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

World's Most Prolific Inventor: Who is Shunpei Yamazaki?

Last night's Final Jeopardy! answer was "Shunpei Yamazaki", an inventor who holds more than 3,200 patents, a world record.

According to the USPTO web site, Yamazaki has 1,688 issued U.S. patents and 1,261 published applications. A search in Patent Lens, a non-profit patent database service, retrieved 3,226 U.S., European and international patent documents credited to Yamazaki. The EPO's esp@cenet system, which contains more than 60 million patent documents from 70+ countries, records 7,285 patents and published applications for Yamazaki. In contrast, Thomas Edison, America's most prolific inventor, rec'd some 1,100 U.S. patents during his lifetime.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Withdrawn Patents on FreePatentsOnline

Withdrawn patent data is now searchable on FreePatentsOnline. Withdrawn patents may be retrieved by searching the term "withdrawn" in the title field. This search retrieves approximately 22,600 withdrawn patents, the oldest being No. 4,246,372, withdrawn in 1981.

Allowed U.S. patent applications may be withdrawn prior to issue at the request of the applicant or USPTO provided certain conditions are met. Common reasons for withdrawal requests include the discovery of new prior art that could invalidate one or more claims in the allowed application, an error or illegality in the application, the applicant makes a request for continued examination (RCE) of an application or an interference. See Section 1308 of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure for details.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Patent Lens Adds Predicted Expiry Date for US Patents

Patent Lens, a public patent database containing more than 6 million US, EP and WO patent documents, now allows searchers to limit searches by the predicted expiry date for granted US patents. The date is displayed in the body of the record.

Searchers should note that the predicted expiry date is calculated and does not take into account terminal disclaimers, term extensions or adjustments.

Patent Lens is operated as a "public good global resource for increasing patent transparency" by Cambia, an independent, non-profit scientific research institute located in Canberra Australia.

Worth Repeating: PatentScope Graphics

This week the WIPO formally announced the newest feature in its PatentScope database: the ability to display search results in graphic format. The tool has been available in beta version for several months.

The tool converts search results into four graphic charts: 1) year of publication, 2) country of publication, 3) applicant name (first named) and 4) IPC subclass. This is the first public patent database that (to the best of my knowledge) has a search results graphical display capability.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

DC Inventors Aim to be the Next Thomas Edison

Today's (March 4) Washington Post reports on the people who turned out for a casting call for the PBS show "Everyday Edisons". The first show in the series will air on April 28. Inventors mentioned include Frampton Ellis III (naturally contoured shoe), Daniel Davala (butter knife) and Matt Fleming (tabletop game). This month one hundred years ago, Thomas Edison received a patent on an electrical welding machine (847,746).

Monday, February 26, 2007

Maine State Tartan in Dispute

This story isn't patent related but it's interesting to me, since I'm from Maine..

Tartan centre of copyright lawsuit - L.L. Bean and copyright owner in fight over Maine State Tartan. The tartan was designed by a Canadian in 1964 and the copyright acquired by a private company in 1988.

Apparently, there are two Maine tartans... The Maine state legislature has proposed a Maine Dirigo Tartan that would be an alternative to the privately owned Maine State Tartan.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Canadian and U.S. Patent Maps

Several years ago I created a map of the U.S. showing the ratio of issued patents to population. I've recently updated it with 2006 statistics and created a second map for Canada. They're simple maps based on the most recent data from the USPTO and Census Bureau, Canadian Intellectual Property Office and Statistics Canada.

U.S. Patent Map (2006)

The average for the U.S. is 32 patents per 100,000 population. The states with the highest rates are concentrated, as would be expected, in New England, the Pacific Northwest and West Coast. The states with the lowest rates are located in the Deep South, Appalachia, the northern prairies, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Canadian Patent Map (2005)

Canada's national average is only 4.52 patents per 100,000 population. It must be noted, however, that Canadian inventors file 3 times as many patent applications in the U.S. as they do at home. The lowest rates occur in the maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Isle and Newfoundland Labrador. Ontario and Quebec, where most of Canada's manufacturing and high tech companies are located, score 4.72 and 4.47, respectively. The Yukon rate of 12.86 is due to its very small population.

New USPTO Class Orders

Two new classification orders are available on the USPTO web site. Order 1858, published last month, covers Class 348 - Television. Order 1859, published in February, affects Class 192 - Clutches and Power-Stop Control.

Interestingly, Order 1859 has a USPC-ECLA concordance section in addition to the standard USPC-IPC concordance. Could this be a sign that the USPTO is planning to use ECLA codes or is it part of the E-subclass Project started in 2002?

PatentMonkey Review

If a monkey typed at random on a keyboard, how long would it take it to write the complete patents of Thomas Edison? The infinite monkey theorem inspired the name of
PatentMonkey, the latest entrepreneurial start-up in an increasingly crowded field of patent searching and downloading services. It is owned by Invequity, a patent licensing company based in Reston, Virginia. The CEO and co-founder of PatentMonkey is Paul Ratcliffe, a registered patent attorney and former patent examiner.

PatentMonkey, like similar services, is supported in part by advertising and user fees. Users may search and view patents at no charge but must pay in order to download PDF copies of patent documents. Document download credits can be purchased in bundles of 20, 50 and 100; the price per download ranges from $.50 to $1.25. Users may also register for monthly or annual memberships that come with download credits, document management functions and fewer advertisments. Basic monthly membership has 50 downloads while basic annual membership offers 600 downloads. All membership packages offer fewer advertisements and the ability to create up to 100 folders for managing patent documents.

PatentMonkey includes only U.S. utility and reissue patents from August 1975 to the present, or about 3,200,000 utility patents and 10,800 reissue patents. According to the FAQ, published applications and design patents will be added in the near future. However, no mention is made of plant patents, defensive publications and statutory invention registrations. The absence of these miscellaneous patent documents, which number fewer than 25,000, might be excusable, but the lack of published applications (A docs) is a serious weakness. The USPTO has published 1.3 million patent applications since March 2001. About 15 percent of all U.S. patent documents are A docs. It appears that PatentMonkey is updated weekly.

PatentMonkey is a full text database with 29 searchable fields including patent number, date, title, abstract, claims, specification, current U.S. classification, international classification, inventor, assignee, etc. In comparison, the USPTO patent full-text and image database has 31 searchable fields. Test searches retrieved the same or very similar results compared to the USPTO database, discounting searches that retrieved design patents. (See the Patent Database Comparison Slides.)

All in all, PatentMonkey's search functions and search results display are very similar to other services.
There are
five search modes: Quick, Quick+, Advanced, Patent Number and Bulk Patent Number. Quick mode searches terms in 1, 2 or 3 fields; Quick+ searches terms in up to 10 fields; advanced search is not yet available. Inventor and assignee searches use automatic left and right truncation. For example, a search on inventor lastname "Adler" also retrieves "Stadler" and "Sadler". Curiously, left and right truncation and wildcards are not available for keyword searches. Phrase searching is possible using quotation marks.

Another weakness of the system is the lack of integrated U.S. patent classification (USPC) search tools. Users who want to do a classification-based search must first obtain their USPC classes and subclasses from another source, such the USPTO classification tools website. In comparison, the USPTO patent database and Manual of Classification, including schedules, definitions and index, have been integrated since at least 2000.

Figure 1. PatentMonkey Record with Patent Status Display.

PatentMonkey's most useful feature is its patent status indicator. (See Figure 1.) Each retrieved patent record displays a status symbol indicating whether the patent is active, abandoned, abanoned less than 24 months (and eligible for reactivation), expired or status to be determined. The status is computed by a proprietary algorithm and does not take into account patent term extensions or adjustments. Users should
proceed with caution when evaluating status information.

With so many other free U.S. patent downloading services, such as Patent Lens, Pat2PDF and esp@cenet, it will be a challenge for PatentMonkey to find customers willing to pay $.50-$1.25 per patent. Its lack of design patents and published applications, limited truncation capabilities and classification search options are serious weaknesses. PatentMonkey's patent status data is a useful feature not found in other databases, but it should be used in conjunction with the USPTO's Public PAIR system.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Greatest Canadian Invention: Insulin

Last week the CBC aired the results of its "Greatest Canadian Invention" poll. The top three picks were:

1. Insulin (1921) - Banting and Best
2. Light bulb (1874) - Woodward and Evans
3. Telephone (1876) - Bell

Americans might be surprised to see the light bulb and telephone, two quintessentially "American" inventions, topping a list of Canadian innovations. But both have connections to Canada.

Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, was born in Scotland and moved to Canada in 1870 at the age of 23. In 1872 he moved to Boston to take a teaching job and pursue his interest in telephony. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1882 but spent most of his later life at his estate in Nova Scotia. He died and was buried there in 1922. In 1874 Thomas Edison bought the patent rights for a carbon filament light bulb from two Canadians, Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans, for $5000. His famous 1879 patent was an improvement on their design. The number 1 invention, insulin, was first isolated and produced in 1921 by Univ. of Toronto researchers Charles Best and Frederick Banting.

See for details about all 50 inventions in the poll, a teacher's resource guide and numerous facts about inventing and patenting.

Some other quick facts about Canadian patents:

  • The first "Canadian" patent was granted in 1791 by the Legislature of Lower Canada to American inventor Samuel Hopkins.
  • Canada's first federal patent statute was enacted in 1869. Canada's first federal patent was issued on August 18, 1869.
  • Canadian inventors file more patent applications abroad (primarily in the U.S.) than at home. In 2005, Canadian inventors filed 5,102 patent applications in Canada and 8,309 applications in the U.S. They received 1,461 Canadian patents and 3,368 U.S. patents.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Patent Caselaw Site

The guys over at phosita(R), an IP law blog, have just announced the release of According to their Jan. 2 posting, FedCirc is...

..."a website that allows patent professionals and other patent stakeholders to access, digest and manage patent caselaw information. The site is built on a foundation of timely, accurate, and considered reviews of patent decisions from the Supreme Court of the United States and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit."

Why did they do it?

"Three factors are coming together - now - to create an environment that begs for revolution: chaos in the law, an intense and sudden focus on patent law by non-patent professionals, and a technology tipping point that's been exposed by the runaway success of patent blogs over the last several years."

U.S. Patent and PGPub Q4 Report and 2006 Review

2006 was a record-breaking year for patents and pre-grant publications. In the final quarter of 2006 the USPTO published 76,032 applications, an increase of 1.49 percent over the previous quarter and a new record high. The total for the calendar year was 294,674, an increase of just 1.75 percent over 2005 but the highest annual total since the USPTO began publishing pending applications in 2001. Approximately 1.3 million applications have been published to date. Despite a slow start, 2006 was also a banner year for patents. The total for the year was 196,613, a whopping increase of 24.58 percent over 2005. The previous highest total (187,147) was set in 2003. The increase was due to very high outputs in Q2 and Q3. There was some slippage in Q4 with the USPTO issuing 46,912 patents, a decrease of 6.64 percent from the previous quarter. With the pending application backfile now over 1 million, the USPTO is expanding its workforce in order to deal with the increasing workload. According to the USPTO's FY2006 annual report, the agency hired approximately 1,218 new patent examiners this year, bringing the total to 4,779. Current plans call for the USPTO to hire 1,200 examiners per year through 2011. 2006

Quarterly Patent and PGPub Counts*

Patents PGPubs Totals

Q1 44,699 70,147 114,846
Q2 54,749 73,593 128,342
Q3 50,253 74,902 125,155
Q4 46,912 76,032 122,944

196,613 294,674 491,287

*Based on weekly data from the USPTO's PatFT and AppFT databases. Weekly totals may change after the fact due to withdrawn patents and published applications.

Average Weekly Totals for 2006

Patents 3,811

PGPubs 5,674

Number Ranges for 2006

Patents 6,981,282 - 7,155,745

Reissues RE38,928 - RE39,451

PGPubs 2006/0000001 - 2006/0294,631

Designs D513,356 - D534,0330

Plants PP16,176 - PP17,325

SIRs H2,137 - H2,176

Predictions for 2007

Series Code 12
Given the huge number of new applications in 2005 (410,000) and 2006 (443,000), it is likely that the USPTO will introduce series code 12 sometime in 2007. Series codes are two-digit numbers prefixed to application serial numbers. The USPTO assigns application serial numbers from 1-999,999. Series code 11 was introduced in December 2004.