Figure 1. U.S. Patent (blue) and PGPub (red) Counts, Q4
2008 was a typical year for U.S. patents and published applications, but there were some surprises. The USPTO continued to churn out huge quantities of published applications (A docs), publishing slightly more than 312,000 applications this year, a 4.2 percent increase over 2007. On October 2 it published 8,955 applications, a record for a single week. In the fourth quarter, it published a record-breaking 84,780 applications, a 17 percent jump from the previous quarter and 15 percent more than the same quarter in 2007. Approximately 1.96 million plant and utilty patent applications have been published since 2001.
The number of issued patents (B docs) in Q4 rose to 46,556, a 13.9 percent increase from the previous quarter and a 2.5 percent rise from the same quarter last year. The total number of patents in 2008 dropped to 180,435, a 1.4 percent decrease from 2007.
Some milestones to watch for in 2009 will be the two millionth published application and patent no. 7,500,000, both of which will probably appear around the end of February. Plant patent no. 20,000 will probably issue in April and design patent no. 600,000 is expected this summer.
WIPO has announced that due to privacy concerns it will remove address data for inventors and individual applicants from its PatentScope database. The data will not be indexed or displayed in Internet search engines. This will not affect PatentScope searches or RSS search alerts. I ran several test searches based on city names and postal codes and retrieved the expected documents, although address data did not appear in individual records. However, address data will still appear on the frontpage of PCT documents in PDF format.
It is unclear if this policy will apply to WIPO data obtained by third-party database producers such as FreePatentsOnline and Patent Lens. As of December 30, inventor address data from PCT documents was still indexed and displayed in Patent Lens.
FreePatentsOnline has launched a new site called CitePatents that is designed to make it easier for journalists, bloggers, copy writers and website owners and to link to patent documents. I hope this encourages more newspapers to link to patent documents in their stories. Too many journalists provide no details about related patents in stories about new products and infringement lawsuits. This wasn't always the case. Fifty years ago newspaper stories frequently included references to patent numbers.
For novice patent searchers one of the most difficult concepts in the U.S. Patent Classification system is the idea that inventions can be classified on the basis of "proximate function." Proximate function is one of four schemes in the USPC used to classify subject matter disclosed in patents and published applications. The other three are "industry or use," "effect or product" and "structure." The rationalie behind proximate function is that "similar processes or structures that achieve similar results by the application of similar laws of nature to similar substances are considered to have the same fundamental utility and are grouped together." (See the Handbook of Classifiction.) For example, a refrigeration system used to cool beer and a refrigeration system that cools milk are treated the same under the USPC.
The patents of A.C. Gilbert, inventor of the Erector Set, offer another example of proximate function at work. Gilbert's inspiration for the Erector set was real-life construction sites he saw around his home in New Haven, Connecticut. Many of his patented inventions are simply scaled-down versions of construction materials such as beams, girders, brackets, trusses and rivets. Consequently, you can find Gilbert's patents classfied under both Class 446, Amusement Devices: Toys, and Class 52, Static Structures (Buildings). Because of the concept of proximiate function a search for patents for construction toys should include the appropriate subclasses from both classes. A third search possibility is the design class D21, Games, Toys and Sports Goods; subclasses 484-505 specifically relate to construction-type toys.
The other day when I was channel surfing I happened across a movie called The Man Who Saved Christmas, starring Jason Alexander as Alfred C. Gilbert, the inventor of the Erector set, one of the classic American toys of the 20th century. Gilbert became known as the "man who saved Christmas" during World War I when the U.S. government was considering a ban on the production of toys in order to support the war effort. Gilbert appeared before the Council of National Defense and successfully argued against the ban.
Gilbert was a Yale graduate and amateur magician who started with his partner John A. Petrie a business for producing magic tricks and apparatus. The company was named the Mysto Manufacturing Co. and based in New Haven, Conn. On Dec. 5, 1911, Petrie patented a disappearing cigarette trick (US1010794) and assigned the rights to Mysto. Gilbert's interest, however, soon turned away from magic and to construction toys. On Jan. 20, 1913, he applied for a patent for toy construction blocks. The application described toy building blocks made of strips of sheet metal and the means of fastening them together with u-shaped couplings. The patent issued on July 8, 1913 (US1066809), the first of more than 150 patents Gilbert would receive for Erector set components and other toys. The A.C. Gilbert company (Gilbert changed the name in 1917) continued to produce Erector sets , train sets and other toys into the 1960s.
Whatever happened to Gilbert's partner John Petrie? He parted ways with Gilbert in 1913 shortly after the introduction of the Erector set. He continued to invent and in 1917 patented an lighted hand mirror (US1216724) and a sand-wheel toy (US1247145). The trail grows murky after that. A John W. Petrie, also of New Haven, Conn. (possibly a son?), received several patents from the 1920s through 1940s for toys, magic devices and other items. Many of these were assigned to the Petrie-Lewis Manufacturing Co.
The EPO has added patent data from Cost Rica (CR), Peru (PE) and El Salvador (SV) to esp@cenet and some of its other patent data products. In addition, data from Cuba (CU) which had not been updated from 1996, will be re-introduced in the database at the end of December.
The actually number of patent documents added is small: 51 for Cost Rica (Mar-Aug, 2007), 110 for Cuba (Jan 2007-Apr 2008), 616 for El Salvador (2004-2007) and 94 for Peru (2004-2007).
Individual accounts on FreePatentsOnline now can contain up to 20 portfolios and up to 10,000 patent documents. Users are still limited to exporting bibiliographic data from a maximum of 250 documents at a time. These improvements will be useful for searchers who maintain large collections of patent documents or who run multiple patent searches. Thanks, FPO!
Skiers and snowboarders may see something different on the slopes this winter... Two entrepreneurs from Vancouver Island hope to launch the next winter sports craze with their snow bike, a winter version of a mountain bike. Called the Ktrak, the bike is equipped with a ski in the place of the front wheel and a rubber track around the back wheel. Kyle Reeves, the inventor of the bike, has applied for patents in the US and Canada. He received a US patent on the rear drive assembly in 2007 (US7232130) and has a pending Canadian application (CA2497365A1) . Another pending CA application is for the front ski (CA2496740A1).
Betty James, wife of Richard James, the naval engineer who invented the world-famous Slinky spring toy in 1945, has passed away at the age of 90. Her obit is in the New York Times. Mrs. James named the toy 'Slinky'. The Slinky is one of the great toy invention success stories of the 20th century. In December 1945 Richard sold the first 400 Slinkys at Gimbels in Philadelphia in 90 minutes. Since then more 300 million Slinkys have been sold worldwide. Mrs. James took over as president of the business in 1960 when her husband abandoned the family and moved to Bolivia to join a religious cult. She served as president until 1998. The patent (US2415012) on the Slinky is an excellent example of how vague patent descriptions can be. The title of the patent is 'Toy and Process of Use'. The text describes the Slinky as a 'helical spring toy,' referring to its coil-like shape. The name Slinky does not appear at all, since the original application was filed on November 1, 1945, probably before Mrs. James had selected the name. Patent Office rules discourage inventors from including trademarks and product names in the applications. For such a simply object, the patent has a surprising number of very detailed claims, 19 in total. The specification includes the dimensions of the original design and a detailed discussion of the mechanics of springs. It would be a useful teaching example for first-year engineering students.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the States and in a few hours millions of Americans will be sitting down to a traditional turkey dinner. In honour of that noble and self-sacrificing bird, here are a few turkey-related patents. Of course, few people today actually hunt and kill their own turkey. But for those that do, there is this patented animated turkey decoy, US5289654, for luring reluctant gobblers into the open. If you prefer to have your bird and eat it too, there is this turkey trophy mounting kit, US5064725, for displaying the tail fan, beard and feet and an eye-catching "full strut" turkey plaque, USD566614. This attractive turkey figurine, USD314357, is the perfect center piece for any Thanksgiving table. And don't forget to bast your turkey using this turkey-shaped baster, USD390070.
A little over one hundred years ago, John James McLaughlin, a Toronto pharmacist, created one of the world's most famous carbonated beverages, Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale, the "champagne of ginger ales." McLaughlin started in 1890 manufacturing soda water and eventually decided to create a beverage with a little more pizazz. He experimented with more than 100 different formulas until he perfected his sparkling beverage in 1907. McLaughlin also invented and patented several machines for bottling his popular beverage. These include an apparatus for dispensing carbonated liquids (US736000 and CA83850) and a bottle washing machine (CA88234). He also acquired the rights to at least one patent for siphon filler (US678502). Canada Dry is now owned by Cadbury Beverages.
A couple of months ago a Montreal-based non-profit IP consulting firm called The Innovation Partnership issued an interesting report calling for changes in the way biotechnology IP is created, disseminated and protected. In recent years there has been much debate in academic and research circles about whether the prolific patenting and licensing of biotechnology IP inhibits pure research and information sharing. The full report is available at:
What struck me most about the report was the number of recommendations linked to the dissemination of patent information to the public. Specifically, the authors of the report argue that... "As custodians of the patent system, patent offices around the world should...
... build publicly-available databases of patent information that can be used to better track the impact and effectiveness of not only the IP system, but of particular methods of dissemination.
... should collect patent-related information in a standard form and make this available to the public for free. Data should include information that will assist in assessing patent landscapes in targeted areas of technology, such as essential medicines. Patent databases should be linked so that a user can identify not only the patents in one country but related patents in other countries. These databases should also be easily searchable.
...should collect data on the type and major terms of licence agreements. A pilot project at the Japanese Patent Office on creating such a database should be expanded and spread to patent offices around the world.
...To better enable patent offices to respond to the needs of the public sector, these offices should establish policy branches that would investigate ways to make data more available, assist in patent landscaping and disseminate information about the patent system.
According to preliminary statistics, inventors filed a record-breaking 495,095 applications from Oct. 1, 2007-Sept. 30, 2008. This is a 5.7 percent increase over FY2007. Interestingly, there was a 33.7 percent increase in plant patent applications from 1,002 to 1,340. Design and utility applications increased about 5 percent. There basically no change in the number of reissue applications.
The number of applications pending has increased to 1,208,076, an 8.6 percent increase from last year. Pendency for UPR applications is 32.2 months. The highest pendency is 43.6 months in the Communications Technology Centre.
Issued patents dropped slightly to 182,556, keeping in line with the USPTO's drive to improve patent quality through more rigorous examination practices. Published applications increased to 309,194, a 2.2 percent increase. There was a big jump (25 precent) in the number of abandoned applications, suggesting perhaps that applicants are giving up on weaker applications. A total of 208,610 applications were abandoned as opposed to 166,000 last year.
The USPTO also hired another 600 patent examiners in FY2008. The total number of examiners is now 6,055. In 2004, the Patent Examing Corps numbered 3,753.
A blog posting at the New Scientist magazine claims that the USPTO issued secrecy orders on 68 new patent applications and rescinded 47 older orders in the year ending Sept. 30. A total of 5,023 secrecy orders are still in effect. The USPTO reports the number of secret cases in condition for allowance in its annual report, which is usually released in November. The annual report for 2006-2007 states that there were 3,081 such cases as of Sept. 2007.
IP Australia has announced that it will update Patsearch, its legacy patent search system, weekly on Mondays starting Nov. 22, 2008. The system will be decommissioned in February 2009. AusPat, the new patent search system, was launched in April 2008 and contains bibliographic data from about 1970 forward and full text from 1998 forward. Australian patent documents are also available in esp@cenet and PatentLens (1998+). The Australian Patent Office was established in 1904. IP Australia has a long-term project to scan and make searchable all patent specifications back to this date.
Joff Wild at IAM Magazine reports that the EPO, JPO, USPTO, SIPO and KIPO have just reached an agreement on a major work-sharing initiative that will reduce duplication and enhance patent examination. Part of the agreement includes the creation of 10 "Foundation Projects". The projects (as described in an EPO press release) that could have the most impact on public users of patent information include:
A) Common documentation database (lead: EPO) Aim: To bring together a common set of relevant patent and non-patent literature from around the world to assist patent examiners in their prior art searches.
B) Common approach to hybrid classification (lead: EPO) Aim: To enable joint and efficient updating of patent classification and facilitate the reuse of work among the patent offices.
C) Common Approach to Sharing and Documenting Search Strategies (lead: USPTO) Aim: To promote reutilization by enabling the patent examiners of each office to understand each other's search strategy
D) Common Search and Examination Support Tools (lead: USPTO) Aim: To establish a system of common search and examination tools to facilitate work-sharing
E) Common Access to Search and Examination Results (lead: JPO) Aim: To enable examiners to find one-stop references in the dossier information of other offices, such as search and examination results. To conduct the priority document exchange (PDX) to reduce the cost of ordering copies of priority documents for applicants and the administrative costs of electronic processing for offices.
F) Common Application Format (lead: JPO) Aim: To facilitate the filing procedure of each office by using a Common Application Format; and by using electronic or digitized patent application filing (in XML format) and subsequent processing and publication in XML format.
It's October... the time of year when patent searchers wait and watch for news from esp@cenet. The EPO rolled out its latest esp@cenet improvements this week.
The most impressive is a beta search function called SmartSearch. SmartSearch allows the user to enter terms such as inventor name, keyword, publication number, date, etc. in any order and without having to specify a search field for each term. For example, entering "Bombardier CA 2007" will cause SmartSearch to look for Bombardier as the inventor/applicant, Canadian patent documents (2 letters indicating the country code) and 2007 as the publication date.
Clicking on "Refine Search" in a SmartSearch search results list will take you to the SmartSearch search page where you can explore more features. There are 22 search field identifiers, some of them representing more than one field. For example, TA searches both title and abstract. A maximum of 21 search terms can be combined with Boolean operators and a maximum of 4 search terms per search field are allowed. Date range searching and proximity operators are only available at the EP level. Full text searching of the claims and specification is not possible. A maximum of five brackets can be used per search. Left truncation is not permitted.
esp@cenet also has added an export function that exports bibliographic data from up to 30 records at a time from search hit lists and documents stored in the "My Patents List". The fields include title, publication number, publication date, inventor(s), applicant(s), international classification, European classification, application number, date of application, priority number(s) and cited documents. The capacity of the "My Patents List" has been expanded to 100 documents (previously 20).
Esp@cenet also has a new logo celebrating its tenth anniversary.
SumoBrain, the patent search system from the creators of FreePatentsOnline, is now offering free accounts. SumoBrain features full-text cross-collection searching of US patents and applications, EP patents and applications, PCT documents and Japanese abstracts, portfolios, alerts, and PDF download capabilities (for a fee). SumoBrain's content and search engine are very similar to FPO. And like FPO, registered users can save up to 1000 documents in 1-5 portfolios, and download bibliographic data from up to 250 records (at a time) in spreadsheet format.
According to a report in the Oct. 2 issue of Nature, IP Australia is taking some heat for issuing a patent (AU2004309300B B2) to discredited Korean scientist Dr. Woo Suk Hwang that was based on fabricated data. In 2004 and 2005 Dr. Hwang claimed to have created a stem-cell line from a cloned human embryo. Hwang's claims, it was discovered, were a complete fraud. He lost his university job, was convicted of various crimes including embezzlement and his published papers were retracted. However, his university continued to prosecute patent applications based on his work.
Unlike scientific papers, patents are not peer-reviewed. Patent offices issue patents based on the legal criteria put for under national patent laws. They don't test the validity of the data submitted with a patent application. If they did, the patent system would probably grind to a halt. Of course, there are penalties for inventors who lie or commit misrepresentations in a patent application. But this usually applies to things like the date of conception of the invention, true inventorship, etc.
On Sept. 2, the USPTO issued Classification Order 1879 covering changes to design class D14, Recording, Communication, or Information Retrieval Equipment. New subclasses have been established for flash type memory drives, karaoke systems and digital media recorders. There are approximately 40,000 patents classified in Class D14.
The USPTO also published on Sept. 2 Classification Order 1880 covering a new cross-reference art collection labeled G9B, Information Storage Based on Relative Movement Between Record Carrier and Transducer. The order provides little information on the origin of this class, other than to say that it was established in 1979 and is connected to something called an IdT scheme, which is a European classification system. Obviously, it resembles an IPC class and not a USPC class. There are no patents classified in G9B at this time. Perhaps it is a new e-subclass.
The USPTO published 72,421 patent applications (A docs) in Q3, a 3 percent decrease over the same quarter last year and a 6.78 percent drop from the previous quarter. On October 2, the USPTO published a record-breaking 8,955 patent applications. If these had been counted in Q3, the total would have been a hefty 81,376. The USPTO is on track to publish over 310,000 applications this year. Approximately 1.87 million plant and utilty patent applications have been published since 2001.
The number of issued patents (B docs) in Q3 dropped to 40,869, a 17 percent drop from the previous quarter and a 6 percent decline from the same quarter last year. This was the lowest total in almost three years. Weekly issues remained flat for most of the quarter, dropping precipitously in the second half of September. The USPTO's campaign to hold the line on low quality patents appears to be having an impact on output.
Patent databases continue to proliferate on the internet. The most recent addition is Patents.com, which describes itself as "one of the most comprehensive free patent search services on the web." I get a little annoyed when I see claims such as this, especially when the database provider doesn't state the contents and dates of coverage. Having a great search engine doesn't mean much if the underlying data is incomplete. So I figured that it was prime time to update my comparison of patent database search engines.
When I did this last in February 2007 I compared Delpion, FreePatentsOnline, Google Patents, Patent Lens, Patent Monkey and the USPTO website. This time I compared five patent databases: Google Patents, FreePatentsOnline, Patents.com, Patents Lens and the USPTO patent database. Patent Monkey was absorbed by Patents.com in 2007. I decided to drop Delphion because it offers access only to US issued patents. Google Patents has added data for US published applications but it's unclear how frequently the data is updated. The other three non-USPTO databases are updated weekly. All test searches were restricted to US patents issued from 1976 forward in order to allow for comparisons between databases. (Some databases include non-US patents and/or patents prior to 1976.) My search categories were inventor name, assignee name, keyword in title, and current US patent classification.
In the inventor search category, most of the databases came very close or slightly exceeded the results from the USPTO database. The only exception was Google Patents, which failed miserably at finding patents by inventor name. Perhaps Google has disabled their inventor name search.
Company name search results were also consistent across most of the databases. Again, the exception was Google Patents which found significantly fewer patents for two of the four companies searched. Patent Lens performed well except that it found approximately 200 fewer patents assigned to Bombardier than the other databases (except for Google). This might be explained by the fact that Bombardier's patent portfolio includes more than 200 design patents which are not covered in Patent Lens. FreePatentsOnline did poorly with "Queen's University", possibly because the apostrophe threw off the search engine.
The title keyword search produced varied results. Patent Lens, Patents.com and FPO did very well in three of the four searches. Google Patents found significantly fewer patents in all four searches. In a couple of searches FPO actually retrieved more patents that the USPTO database. But this might be because FPO searches withdrawn patents, which are not included in the USPTO database.
The best scoring database in the current US patent classification search was Patents.com, which produced identical or very close results to the USPTO database. FreePatentsOnline also did well, except when asked to retrieve patents in 623/1.1. The decimal subclass might have confused FPO's search engine. Google Patents and Patent Lens did poorly. Patent Lens does not index USPC or IPC codes, so the only way to search them is to do a crude keyword search against the front page. The results are next to useless.
Overall, the USPTO database search engine produced the most reliable search results. Patents.com performs well for USPC and inventor name searches. Patent Lens is good for inventor, assignee and keyword searches but not USPC searches. FPO is almost as good as the USPTO database but punctuation may throw off search results. I would not recommend Google Patents for anything except retrieving PDF copies of known patents. Its search results are simply too unpredictable and incomplete.
The USPTO does score poorly in the patent document image category because its images are stored in TIFF format rather than PDF. Users must install a TIFF viewer in their browser in order to view patent documents from the USPTO website and then the documents must be viewed or printed one page at a time. The other four databases in this review support mutli-page PDF downloads.
We typically think of innovation as a good thing: Needs inspire ideas, ideas develop into inventions, inventions become patents, and patents make possible new products and services that enhance the quality of human life. But is innovation ever a bad thing? Well, yes, innovation can have a negative effect when it leads to unintended or unforeseen results. In some ways, innovation is to blame for the current U.S. financial crisis. During the past ten years the major players at the heart of the crisis--big Wall Street investment banks and financial companies--developed increasingly complicated and risky investment strategies based on the bundling and trading of mortgages. This has turned out to be a bust. Bankers have been pursuing other innovative strategies, as can be seen in a number of patents and published patent applications assigned to Wall Street firms. We don't usually think of bankers as inventors, but a change in the interpretation of U.S. patent law in the late 1990s (See State Street Bank & Trust Co. v. Signature Financial Group, Inc.) that allowed the patenting of so-called business methods inspired firms to apply for patents on everything from methods of predicting the value of mortgages to picking stock market winners and losers. Will we see fewer such patents in the future? Probably, since both the government and surviving firms will be much less interested in risky innovation.
Top Ten Financial Companies Ranked by Patents+Published Applications*
1. J.P. Morgan Chase ..... 91 2. Bank of America ..... 86 3. Lehman Brothers ..... 74 4. Goldman Sachs ..... 63 5. Merrill Lynch ..... 49 6. Morgan Stanley ..... 37 7. Fannie Mae ..... 28 8. Wachovia ..... 26 9. AIG ..... 16 10. Freddie Mac ..... 8
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has developed an Eco-Patent Commons, a website where companies can pledge their environmentally-friendly patents to the public domain. So far, seven companies, Bosch, DuPont, IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes, Sony and Xerox have pledged about 75 patents.
Could more effective medicines and tastier ice cream come from the belly of a shrimp living in the icy waters off Greenland? A new report called Bioprospecting in the Arctic, sponsored by the United Nations University Institute for Advanced Studies, looks at the current state of research into useful genetic materials found in plants, animals, fish and microbes living in the far north. Included in the report is a list of 31 patents and patent applications based on Arctic genetic resources, such as reindeer, northern shrimp, Artic fox, Arctic scallop, Atlantic cod and junipers. The list of patents is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. A quick esp@cenet search on some of the species named in the patents turns up dozens of additional documents. For example, there are at least ten patents related to the marine microbe rhodothermus marinus.
Registration is now open for next year's IPI-ConfEx, a patent information conference organized by European patent information professional associations. The host city is Venice-Mestre and the theme is "Best Practices in Patent Information Management and Searching." If you're seriously interested in patent information and can afford the airfare and registration, this is definitely an event to attended. Check out the testimonials from past conferences.
There's (yet) another way to search patents on the internet: A new patent database/IP exchange portal called Patents.com has just launched. Patents.com is the brainchild of Robert Monster, a hi-tech venture capitalist, authority on market research and former product developer for Procter and Gamble, and Paul Ratcliffe, a patent attorney and founder of PatentMonkey.com, a patent search site that operated from early 2006 to January 2008.
Patents.com searches full text US utility, reissue and design patents, US applications (including plant patent applications) and European patent documents (from 1998 forward?). Detailed content information is lacking, but it appears that US coverage starts in 1976 (2001 for applications, of course). The most recent data retrieved was from patents issued on Aug. 26. EP coverage is more difficult to determine. Several test searches retrieved no patents before 1999. PDFs are available for US docs but not EP docs. Machine translation for fifteen langauges is offered.
Simple search allows simple word searches (no phrase searching or boolean operators). Advanced search allows users to search two or more terms using Boolean operators and wildcards. Expert search allows users to construct complicated fielded queries. Bulk search retrieves multiple documents by patent number. A cluster function groups keywords into a browsable list. At first glance, searches against US docs retrieve similar results as searches done in the USPTO database. It's more difficult to evaluate searches on EP docs as the coverage is unknown and there seem to be problems with some of the fields. I never could get the date range search to work properly.
Performance is faily fast, but the image view caused Firefox 3.0.1 to crash twice. There's a lot more to explore... for example the Community and IP Exchange sites...
According to an announcement on the esp@cenet web site, an upgrade to the Austrian esp@cenet server has added additional content and capabilities. It now contains AT A and B documents and utility models from 1995 forward. Advanced search features now include full text searching, date range searching and multiple keywords. Prost!
The WIPO recently released its 2008 World Patent Report, which contains all kinds of interesting statistics on patent activity worldwide. In 2006, a stunning 1.76 million new applications were filed worldwide, driven largely by filings in China, Korea and the U.S.
One of the most interesting sections covers patent filings per GDP, population and R&D. Both Japan (#1) and Korea (#2) had more than 2000 new resident applications per million population. (Japan 127 million pop. = / Korea pop. = 49 million) The U.S. (#3) managed just shy of 800 resident filings per million (with a pop. of 300 million). In R&D, Korea was the leader again, with slightly more than 5 applications per million $ of R&D funding. Russia, Japan, China and (surprisingly) New Zealand rounded out the top five. The US ranked #7 and Canada #29. Clearly, Asia is keen on generating IP.
All this demand is creating huge problems for patent offices. In 2006, the USPTO had more that one million pending applications, a 30% increase over 2004. Japan has about 800K pending applications, up from 600K in 2004. The EPO, on the other hand, has about 250,000 pending applications, which is about the same as 2004 and 2005. It takes about 40 months on average for the EPO to process an application but only 30 months at the JPO and USPTO. The Korean IP Office processes applications in about 20 months.
A few months ago I surveyed my fellow academic engineering librarians to find out how they were using web-based patent databases in their day-to-day work with students and faculty. Patent literature has had a role in engineering education, especially design engineering courses, for many decades. Of course, before the mid-1990s when free patent databases started appearing on the web, most engineering students did not have easy access to patent information unless they were lucky enough to live near a patent depository library.
Forty people completed the survey. The results were pretty much what I expected. Academic engineering librarians are heavy users of patent databases. 57.5% reported giving workshops on patent searching to undergraduate engineering students, while 52.5% delivered workshops to graduate students. The most popular databases taught were the USPTO, Google Patents and FreePatentsOnline.
Librarians also reported frequent usage of patent databases to answer a variety of questions from students and faculty. 86.8% reported helping someone locate a patent document. 78% reported helping someone do a general search (inventor, keyword, assignee, etc.) and 52.6% reported helping someone do a patent search using classification. The most popular databases were the USPTO, Google Patents and esp@cenet.
When asked to rank desirable features of patent databases, librarians overwhelming (87.2%) suggested multi-page saving/printing of patent documents and (74.4%) making PDF the standard format. Other popular features included patent classification search tools and the ability to download/save search results.
Patent Buddy is a new service that provides data (obtained from the USPTO) on registered patent attorneys and their employment histories since 2001. It claims to have data on 38,669 attorneys from ~13,000 organizations. You can search by name, registration #, organization, and geographic location. (You can search by Canadian city and postal code but not province, although it appears that provinces eventually will be added.)
Each individual is given an experience ranking, although it's unclear how this is calculated. You can also see their employment history, patents (although none I viewed listed any) and co-workers. Each organization is ranked by growth curve and experience. Again... details are sketchy about how the rankings are calculated.
More information is available in an article in Finance and Commerce, a Minneapolis-based business journal.
It's a very interesting start-up with a lot of potential... I think it would be especially useful to independent inventors and small firms shopping for a patent firm, and new patent attorneys job hunting.
Speedo's new swimsuit, called the Fastskin LZR Racer, is grabbing attention at the Beijing Olympics. Two recently published US patent applications, US20080141431 and US20080141430, may reveal the technical secrets behind the innovative design that some say is responsible for the record-breaking performances of swimmers such as Michael Phelps of the US.
Inventors have been improving swimsuits for well over a hundred years, some less successful than others, as shown by this example from the 19th century. (US243834)
The World Intellectual Property Organization has released its 2008 World Patent Report. The 72-page report provides a statistical overview of worldwide patent activity, including the number of patent filings, granted patents, patent families, patents in force, patents by field of technology and the cost of patenting.
The USPTO published more than 480,000 patent documents in 2007, so it isn't surprising that a few of them contain errors. Last year the PTO issued 23,000 certificates of correction (CCs), or about 12.5% of all issued patents. CCs are issued to correct typographical errors and other minor defects. However, a recent article citing a study published in the India Business Law Journal suggests that the number of defective patents is much, much higher and that uncorrected errors can be an expensive headache for patent owners. Unfortunately, CCs are not searchable in the USPTO website, although the scanned CC is appended to the original patent. CCs are also announced in the USPTO's Official Gazette.
WIPO Magazine reports about the final wish of inventor Frederic Baur, a food chemist for Procter and Gamble. In 1966 Baur applied for a patent on a container for Pringles potato chips (US348798). Baur died in May at the age of 89 and requested that his body be cremated and his ashes buried in a Pringles can. I wonder if it was regular or Ranch flavoured?
The current issue of WIPO Magazine features a story about a boy who may be the world's youngest patent holder. Samuel Thomas Houghton of Buxton, UK was only three years old when he had an idea for an improved broom. His father, a patent attorney, applied for a GB patent, which was granted on April 2, 2008 (GB2438091).
It's impossible to know for sure if little Sammy is the world's youngest inventor since the inventor's age is not usually stated in patent applications. But I can think of at least one other very young patent holder from Minnesota. Steven Olson of St. Paul, MN, also the son of a patent attorney, was granted a patent in 2002 for a new "method of swinging on a swing" (US6368227). I believe that little Stevie was only 4 or 5 when his father applied for his patent. His patent is often cited by critics of the USPTO as an example of a low quality patent that should never have been issued. It does look like a vanity project, given that it's hard to imagine how one would go about commercializing such an invention. I guess it's no surprise that he let it expire in 2006.
Last night Sixty Minutes did an interesting story on an inventor named John Kanzius who has developed a new radiofrequency therapy to treat tumors and cancerous cells. Kanzius, who has no technical or medical training, was inspired to invent by his fight with leukemia, a disease which still threatens to take his life. Kanzius has at least five US patent applications under review: 20050251233, 20050251234, 20050273143, 20060190063, and 20070250139. His earliest provisional application was filed on May 7, 2004. He also has two published EP applications and two PCT applications.
The treatment involves injecting a tumor with gold nanoparticles and exposing them to RF, which causes the cancerous cells to heat up and die. Adjacent cells are not harmed. The therapy has shown encouraging results in the lab, much to the amazement and delight of canceer researchers.
It just so happens that I am currently reading Margaret Cheney's excellent 1981 biography of Nikola Tesla, Tesla, Man Out of Time. Tesla was an early pioneer of wireless communication in the 1880s and 1890s and believed in the possibility of wireless transmission of electricity. He also speculated that radiofrequency waves might be used to treat human disease, although he never followed up on the idea. I think it's fascinating that more than one hundred years later someone might actually fulfill Tesla's vision.
An op-ed piece in the July 14th Wall Street Journal by L. Gordon Crovitz makes an interesting case about the shortcomings of the US patent system and the recent failure of Congress to enact patent reform. One of his criticisms is the lack of transparency in the system. This may seem odd given the amount of patent information that is available in public databases. Surely the public has never had better access to the latest patent information? Well, actually...
Although the USPTO was a leader among patent offices in publishing patent data on the web in the mid-1990s, over the past decade it hasn't invested much in its core patent databases, PatFT and AppFT. PatFT contains issued patents from 1790 to the present and AppFT contains published applications from 2001 forward. Creating a separate database for published applications may have made sense from an internal bureaucratic, ah...administrative, point of view, but it's a huge disadvantage to searchers because it forces them to do double the work. Almost every type of patent search, from a patentability search to a state-of-the-art search, must include both issued patents and published applications. Other third-party public databases such as esp@cenet, FreePatentsOnline and Patent Lens, allow users to search both types of documents at the same time.
Most patent offices publish patent documents in PDF format, but the USPTO still insists on using TIFF, an obscure format that is loathed by searchers because it requires them to install a special browser plugin such as AlternaTIFF or InterTIFF. And the USPTO still does not allow printing or saving multipage documents, forcing users to go to esp@cenet, which enabled multi-page downloads in 2004, or a third-party service like Pat2PDF, in order to download complete US documents. The USPTO allows does not allow exporting patent bibliographic data, which would be very useful for creating databases or spreadsheets for analysis purposes.
One of the biggest impediments to transparency is the fact that there is no central access point on the USPTO website to patent information. Patent documents, classification, status information, ownership, and post-grant actions are scattered in at least a half dozen systems and channels. For example, the USPTO publishes notices about expired patents, corrections, reexamination filings, reissue applications in the electronic Official Gazette, a weekly periodical that was first published (in print) in 1872. Even though the print edition was discontinued in favor of the electronic in 2002, the format of these notices has not really changed in more than fifty years. Although the OG is searchable back to 1995, it would be much more convenient to make this data available in the PatFT database and allow users to create RSS or e-mail alerts for individual patents. Users who want to check on the ownership status of a patent or published application must use the Assignments on the Web database. Users who want to view the contents of a file wrapper must use the PAIR system. Neither system is connected to the PatFT or AppFT databases.
So while the public has much better access to US patent information than it did 15 years ago, it is still very difficult to find given that it is locked up in so many different silos and stovepipes on the USPTO website. The end result is a very fragmented, user-unfriendly system that effectively hides important information.
The USPTO has issued a new classification order, #1878, covering changes to Classes 16, Miscellaneous Hardware, and 52, Static Structures (Buildings). Static structures include all types of constructions ranging from amusement park rides and sports stadiums to wind turbines and gravestones. The principal changes in Class 52 affect subclasses related to beams, columns, girders, shafts, reinforcing bars and rods. As of July 1, there are approximately 92,500 patents and 10,600 published applications classified in Class 52.
Dr. Michael DeBakey, a heart surgeon who invented dozens of medical procedures, devices and instruments, died this weekend at age 99 after a extremely long and productive career. (He continued practicing medicine well into his 90s.) While in medical school in the 1930s, he devised a device called a roller pump that eventually would become a core technology in heart-lung machines. Although Dr. Debakey is recognized for many innovations, he only patented a few inventions, including a rotary blood pump in 1999. (US5947892)
Patenting medical procedures and devices is controversial. Some countries, such as Canada, ban patents for medical therapies. In the 1950s, the American Medical Association lobbied to extend patent protection to medical treatments but as recently as 1995, it condemned doctors who sought to patent certain medical procedures.
Joff Wild, a journalist and blogger for Intellectual Asset Management Magazine, makes some interesting observations about a new study that claims that the quality of patents issued by the USPTO is rising. The research found, among other things, significant growth in prior art citations in issued patents over the last five years: 41 percent more US patent docs, 36 percent more foreign patent docs and 23 percent more non-patent literature. Wild points out that this research contradicts claims that US patent examiners frequently miss relevant prior art and issue low-quality patents. The research was published in the June issue of Les Nouvelles, the official publication of the Licensing Executives Society (LES).
The USPTO published 77,691 patent applications (A docs) in Q2, a six percent increase over the same quarter last year and the second straight quarter over 77,000, but a slight decline from the Q1 2008. The USPTO is on track to publish over 310,000 applications this year. Approximately 1.8 million plant and utilty patent applications have been published since 2001.
The number of issued patents (B docs) rebounded from 43,657 in Q1 to 49,353 in Q2, a dramatic 13 percent jump and a six percent increase over the previous year. Curiously, the number of issued patents remained flat for most of Q2.
When I teach people how to conduct a proper search of the patent literature, I always find it challenging to convince them that they need to include older patents in their searches. Most people, especially undergraduate students, are content to do keyword searches that will retrieve only patents from the mid-1970s forward. They seem to believe that older patents couldn't possibly be relevant to whatever technology they're interested in. Of course, this is not the case: there are many technologies that can trace their origins back to the mid-19th century (or even earlier).
I decided recently that I needed some hard data to back up my arguments, so I looked at the cited references in recently issued patents in selected USPC classes and subclasses. References are cited by applicants and patent examiners based on their relevance to the patented invention. Of course, this includes patents back to 1790. For this exercise I chose bicycles (280/2*), stirling engines (60/517), wind turbines (Class 416), fuel cells (Class 429), hydrocarbons (Class 580) and surgical instruments (Class 606). I retrieved the 20 most recent patents in each class/subclass and compiled the references to US patents in a spreadsheet. The results were very interesting.
In four of the five classes/subclasses, the total number of references ranged from 247 to 297; the median number of references ranged from 6 in fuel cells (Class 429) to 11.5 in wind turbines (Class 416). Surgical instruments (Class 606) had 1110 references, almost four times the average in the other four categories, with a median of 45 references per patent. The earliest references ranged from 1867 in surgical instruments to 1966 in fuel cells. Fuel cells had the fewest pre-1976 references (1 or 0.44 percent). But approximately 10 percent of the references in stirling engines, hydrocarbons and bicycles were earlier than 1976. Surgical instruments had 5 percent and wind turbines had 7 percent.
This data illustrates the importance of pre-1976 patents in the technological record and makes a strong argument for searching by patent classification. With the exception of fuel cells, all categories had a substantial number of references prior to 1976 which would not be retrieved by keyword searches.
A UK judge has decided that Pringles aren't potato chips, which could save Procter & Gamble millions in taxes every year. The judge based his decision in part on the fact that the chip-like snack is only 42 percent potato. The UK doesn't apply sales tax to most foods, but potato chips and other snack-like products are taxed.
Pringles were invented more than forty years ago by Alexander Liepa, a food scientist at Cincinnati-based P&G. Liepa received a patent (3396036) on August 6, 1968 for a "potato food product" made from a dough consisting of 21-46 percent potato solids, 1-15 percent milk solids and 53-73 percent water. He later patented additional improvements to the formula (3998975) and the design of a machine for molding the dough into the product's trademark concave shape (3608474). (Also see trademark application 75207172.)
A few patriotic patents for your enjoyment on the 4th of July. The first is a jack-in-the-box featuring a rather creepy-looking Uncle Sam (US978489); next are matching picture frames with Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam--a perfect gift for queen and king who have everything! (US1283100); the third is a bottle shaped like Uncle Sam holding what appears to be a rifle--for taking shots at squirrels and evil doers?! (USD29331); and, finally, two flags inspired by the design of the US flag. It's surprising how many patent flag designs there are based on Old Glory. See USPC D11/167 and D11/168.
The USPTO has announced the results of its year-long patent review pilot program called Peer to Patent. The purpose of the program, which was launched in June 2007, was to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of an online-based system where registered experts could submit prior art related to pending patent applications. The pilot program was limited to 250 applications in the computer technologies. According to the USPTO, the program recruited 2,000 experts who submitted 173 pieces of prior art related to 40 applications. Patent examiners used the prior art to reject 12 applications, about five percent of the applications in the system.
It's interesting to note that the USPTO's current backlog of unexamined applications is about 750,000. Given the size of the backlog and the record-breaking levels of new filings (467,000 in 2007), it's difficult if not impossible to imagine how Peer to Patent might have any significant impact on the examination process or patent pendency.
In the 1970s the USPTO launched a similar program (but without the technology) called the Trial Voluntary Protest Program. Under TVPP, the public was invited to submit prior art on two thousand selected applications. Only a handful of prior art submissions were received and only a few applications rejected. The USPTO concluded that the program was ineffective and decided not to pursue it.
In honour of Canada Day, here are a few Canadian industrial designs that are based on the maple leaf, the national symbol of Canada. All were retrieved from the CIPO's industrial design database, which includes designs registered from1861 to the present. Unfortunately, CIPO doesn't classify designs by shape, so the only way to retrieve specific designs is by keyword searching in the title or description field. The designs include a sun visor (71471), sunglasses (24929), poncho (106525), pin (100394) and glove (109475).
This is library conference season, so I've been racking up frequently flyer miles by the thousands. Air travel isn't as fun for me as it was pre 9/11, but spending hours in the air does give me an opportunity to catch up on my reading. On my most recent flight I finished Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel: The Gun that Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius who InventedItby Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Julia Keller. The book is a biography of Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling and his most famous invention, the Gatling Gun, the first practical machine gun. (See the Economist review, "A Little Gatling Music.") Strangely enough, Gatling claimed to have invented his machine gun in order to mitigate the pain and suffering caused by war. His reasoning, so he claimed, was that a rapid-firing weapon would require much fewer soldiers, thus reducing the size of armies and the number of battlefield casualties. Keller does a good job of capturing the essence of life in 19th century America, with all its energy, contradictions, noise and (even) odors. Central to her story is the idea that the U.S. patent system made it possible for amateurs like Gatling to drive economic development and social change farther and faster than ever before.
The book contains several factual errors and omissions. For example, Keller states that Samuel Hopkins, the first American inventor to be granted a patent under the new federal patent law in 1790, was from Pittsfield, Vermont. In fact, Hopkins was born in Maryland to Quaker parents and was a resident of Philadelphia for most of his life. (Journal of the Patent and Trademark Office, March 1998) And Although Keller mentions Gatling's many other patented inventions (his first successful invention was a seed planter patented in 1844), she provides the patent numbers for only a few: Nos. 3,581, 36,836 and 47,631). According to a Wikipedia article, Gatling's lifetime total was nearly 50 patents. It's interesting to note that searching Gatling's name in Google Patents retrieves only 12 patents.
Patent Retriever is a new service for downloading patent documents. Launched just days ago (May 30), it will retrieve US, EP and WO (PCT) patent documents in PDF format fairly quickly, although I haven't timed it against other similar services. Users may download single documents or up to ten documents in batch download mode. It appears to retrieve some US documents from the EPO's esp@cenet database and some from the USPTO website. However, it does not appear to retrieve pre-1836 patents (X patents) or additional improvement patents.
Last night I watched a very interesting documentary by Gary Hustwit called Helvetica. It was a fascinating conversation with graphic designers about the font Helvetica, typography and graphic design. Helvetica was created in 1957 by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas type foundry in Munchenstein, Switzerland and within a decade became the world's most successful and well-known font.
The story reminded me that the first U.S. design patent, issued in November 1842, was for a type font. Unfortunately, the surviving copy is a handwritten document that does not include drawings of the font. (See D1.)
The inventor (or designer) was George Bruce, a Scottish immigrant and owner of a type foundry in New York. Bruce was one of the most successful type designers in the 19th century. His inventions included numerous fonts and improvements to type-casting machines.
Since 1842 there have been thousands of design patents for fonts. Fonts are classified in the USPC under Class D18, Printing and Office Machinery, subclasses D18/24-D18/33. It's interesting to note that Bruce's first patented font is still being cited in recent design patents.
The USPTO has recently published Classification Order #1877 affecting subclasses in Class 606, Surgery. Class 606 is part of a mega-class composed of Classes 128, 600, 601, 602, 604, 606, 607. Class 606 covers surgical instruments. This is the third classification order issued this year. As of June 1, 2008, approximately 38,000 patents (1790-present) and 21,000 published applications (2001-present) are classified in Class 606.
I'm the librarian for research services in the Engineering and Science Library at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. I've been working with patent information since 1991, including seven years at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I believe that the dissemination of patent information is a public good and should be promoted, especially in the education of science and engineering students.