Friday, September 26, 2008

Comparison of Free Patent Databases

Patent databases continue to proliferate on the internet. The most recent addition is, 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 Lens and the USPTO patent database. Patent Monkey was absorbed by 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.

Table 1. Inventor Name Search Comparison

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.

Table 2. Company Name Search Comparison

The title keyword search produced varied results. Patent Lens, 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.

Table 3. Title Keyword Search Comparison

The best scoring database in the current US patent classification search was, 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.

Table 4. USPC Search Comparison

Overall, the USPTO database search engine produced the most reliable search results. 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.

Table 5. Patent Database Summary

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Patents and Wall Street

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

*Based on data from the USPTO website.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eco-Patent Commons

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.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Arctic Biotechnology Revealed in 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.

Friday, September 05, 2008

IPI-ConfEx 2009, March 1-5 - Venice, Italy

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.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 - PatentMonkey Redux

There's (yet) another way to search patents on the internet: A new patent database/IP exchange portal called has just launched. 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, a patent search site that operated from early 2006 to January 2008. 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...

Austrian esp@cenet Upgrade - New Content and Search Capabilities

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!

2008 World Patent Report

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.