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