Thursday, August 28, 2008

How are Engineering Librarians Using Patent Information?

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.

The complete results of the survey are available at

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Patent Buddy Ranks Patent Attorneys

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.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Speedo's New Swimsuit Big Winner in Beijing

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)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

2008 World Patent Report

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.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Proofreading Patents May Save Big $$$

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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Inventor's Last Wish: Bury me in my invention.

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?

Youngest Patent Holder?

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.