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!
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.