Wednesday, February 21, 2007

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.