Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gloves Off in Dispute Over Hockey Bag

Hockey fans will enjoy this story about two Canadian inventors suing a company for allegedly copying the design of their patented hockey equipment bag: Dropping the gloves over a hockey bag, Globe and Mail, Dec. 16, 2010.

The bag is patented in Canada (CA 2145612) and the US (US 5,797,612). The US patent has been cited by at least 25 patents.

USPTO to Remove Inventor's Mailing Address from Patent Docs

The USPTO will no longer include the inventor's mailing address on unassigned patents and published applications because of privacy concerns. However, correspondence information will continue to be available in Public PAIR. Patent documents will only display the city and state for US inventors or the city and country for non-US residents.

Privacy is a good thing. And with the number of cases of identity theft and fraud rising, the USPTO's practice was seriously out of date... The WIPO implemented a similar policy for PCT applications a couple of years ago.

Scam artists and patent promoters have been using inventor mailing address data for 150 years to ply their schemes. Many of these schemes involved sending a letter from a bogus company to an inventor expressing interest in licensing their patent. The letter would ask the inventor to send a small fee, usually $5, to the company to pay for a legal opinion on the validity of their patent. Of course, the inventor never heard back.

My favourite inventor scam dates from the 1890s. A clever con artist located in Paris would send inventors a letter announcing that they had been awarded a medal by a prestigious (but bogus) scientific or technical society. In order to collect their medal, all they had to do was send a small sum to cover postage...

However, it will make it more difficult to identify the ownership of published applications. Unlike most patent offices, the USPTO does not require applicants to declare an assignee on their applications. However, it was possible to make an educated guess about the ownership of a published application by looking for a corporate address in the correspondence field.
The order was published in the Nov. 23 OG and takes effect in three months.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

AusPat beta Launched

IP Australia recently released a new version of its patent database, AusPat beta. The new version allows users to retrieve patent specifications from 1904 to the present. Approximately half of the 1.4 million AU patent specs have been loaded. The complete collection is expected to be available in March 2011. Pre-1980 documents appear to be searchable only by patent number. Not sure if or when other bibliographic data will be added. See AusPat beta users guide for search tips and other.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

PatentScope Adds Patents of Brazil

PatentScope now includes the national patent collection of Brazil. Data coverage begins in 1972 for bibliographic data and 1989 for abstracts. The total number of records is about 147,000.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Patent Mystery: The Strange Case of 3,060,165

The recent discussion on the Intellogist blog about missing patent documents in the USPTO patent database reminded me of the curious case of patent no. 3,060,165. The full-text TIFF image of this patent was removed from the USPTO database sometime in 2003. The exact date of and reason for its disappearance are not readily available, but here is what is known:

Our story begins in 1962 when a team of scientists working for the U.S. Army received a patent for a method of producing ricin, a deadly poison made from ordinary castor beans. Why the military would want to patent such a thing is beyond me. Why they would allow it to be disclosed to the world in a patent document is equally mystifying. Maybe they wanted to strike a cross-licensing deal with the Soviets.

Ricin has been implicated in at least one political assassination, the 1978 murder in London of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov by communist agents, and, more recently, terrorist attacks in Washington, DC. In February 2004, a small amount of ricin was found in the mailroom of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Luckily, no one was injured, but several buildings on Capitol Hill were closed for about a week. (New York Times, Feb. 4, 2004) But our patent had disappeared long before ricin was discovered in the Senate mail.

For forty years patent 3,060,165 resided in happy obscurity in the search files of the USPTO. It attracted little attention, being cited in only two other patents. Its debut on the web probably occurred in October 2000 when the USPTO completed loading all patent documents into the PatFT database. Things changed suddenly in February 2003 when television station WABC of NYC aired a sensationalist report that chided the USPTO for allowing the public to have access to a "recipe for a bio-terror weapon more deadly than cyanide". Apparently, this caught the attention of several prominent politicians from New York who started asking questions. The patent quietly vanished from the USPTO website.

Security experts were quick to debunk the idea that the patent was a threat to the public safety. (, July 24, 2004) In fact, its removal from the USPTO database was completely ineffective because copies remained available in other open patent databases such as Google Patents and the German Patent Office's Depatisnet system. In addition, dozens of libraries in the USPTO's patent depository library network probably have copies on microfilm.

The patent was never connected to the 2004 Capitol Hill incident, but it did surface later that year in a bizarre extortion case involving a Maryland man, Myron Tereshchukin. In March 2004, FBI agents raided Tereshchukin's home and found, among other dangerous substances, ingredients for making ricin and a copy of the notorious patent. The FBI had been investigating Tereshchukin for making threats against MicroPatent, a patent information company that is now owned by Thomson Reuters. (New York Times, Aug. 7, 2005) In Sept. 2005, Tereshchukin pled guilty to possession of a biological weapon and possession of explosives and was sentenced to seven years, plus three years probation. (FBI, WMD Cases)

I think it's about time for the USPTO to acknowledge that this patent is not a threat and make it available again for public inspection.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

EPO and USPTO Agree to Develop New Patent Classification

Yesterday the EPO and USPTO announced that they have agreed to jointly develop a patent classification system based on ECLA and the IPC. The press releases are here and here.

Both offices have yet to work out governance and operational details of the project, so changes to the USPC are not imminent. Some initial ground work has already been done. Since 2002 the USPTO has been establishing e-subclasses that correspond to classifications used by the EPO and JPO.

Why has the USPTO held onto its classification system long after most offices have adopted the IPC? One reason often cited by supporters is that the USPC is far more detailed, allowing inventions to be classified in about 150,000 subclasses as opposed to about 80,000 subclasses in the IPC. ECLA, which is based on the IPC, has about 130,000 subclasses. Others praise the USPC's detailed subclass definitions that guide patent searchers through the USPC's non-intuitive, complex and arcane structure.

The new EPO-USPTO classification will combine the best of both systems. It will be interesting to see what will happen to the sections of the USPC for design patents (Classes D1-D34, D99) and plant patents (Class PLT).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Patent # 8,000,000 in 2011?

The USPTO is fast approaching another milestone... Patent number 8,000,000 might be less than a year away. The highest numbered utility patent (as of Oct. 19, 2010) is 7,818,816. At the current rate of about 60,000 patents per quarter, the USPTO could reach the 8 million mark as early as next August or September.

Patent 7,000,000 was issued on February 14, 2006 to American chemical company Dupont for a new type of polysaccharide fiber. Patent 7,500,000 was issued on March 3, 2009 to IBM.

Monday, October 18, 2010

How Complete is the USPTO Patent Database?

There was an interesting discussion last week on the Intellogist blog about the number of allegedly missing patent documents in the USPTO's PatFT database. Of course, this is an important question for anyone who uses the database, but especially for anyone who is doing legal or business research. (PatFT is by default the public patent database of record, although the USPTO does not make this claim.)

Determining the number of records that should be in the PatFT database is relatively easy. The USPTO assigns patent numbers in sequential order, as it has done since 1836. Let's take a closer look at utility patents issued from 1976 to the present. We know that the number of the first utility patent issued in 1976 is 3,930,271 and the highest patent number issued to date (as of Oct. 12, 2010) is 7,814,566. Subtract the latter from the former and add one and you get a total of 3,884,296. So the full-text collection in PatFT should contain 3,884,296 utility patent documents.

However, some of the numbers in the 3,930,271-7,814,566 range are unused because allowed applications (applications that are on the verge of being issued and have been assigned numbers) may be withdrawn from issue by the USPTO or the applicant. These numbers are withdrawn permanently and not reassigned to different applications. (The USPTO publishes lists of these withdrawn patent numbers each week in the Official Gazette.)

How many withdrawn patent numbers are there in our time frame? That's also easy to determine because the USPTO publishes an up-to-date list of withdrawn patent numbers. According to the list, there are 19,753 withdrawn patent numbers in the range 3,930,271-7,814,566. So we must subtract this number from the number above to get the total number of utility patents issued after Jan. 1, 1976 in the PatFT database.

"Potentially assigned patent numbers" - "withdrawn patent numbers" = "total issued patents"

3,884,296 - 19,753 = 3,864,543

We can check this number in PatFT by searching the "Application Type" field (APT) for patents coded "1" (utility patent applications).

apt/1 = 3,864,555

This search retrieves 3,864,555 hits, which is 12 *more* than the number we expected to see based on the calculation above. For a collection of almost 4 million documents, this is a very, very small discrepancy. I would expect similar results for other types of patent documents in the database, e.g. plants, designs, etc.

The reasonable conclusion is that there are no significant gaps in the USPTO's PatFT database, at least for the period after 1975. Of course, no database is perfect and there could be a few missing records in PatFT, but they are probably extremely rare.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

U.S. Patent Counts, Q3

The USPTO issued 63,859 patents from July 1 through Sept. 30, a fraction less than the previous quarter but a large increase over last year's Q3 total of 47,042. Published applications set another record with nearly 90,000 released, a 17 precent increase over the same period in 2009. At this rate, the USPTO is on track to publish between 550,000-600,000 patent documents in 2010.

Table 1. Quarterly Patent Document Counts*

2010 ..... Patents (B) .....PGPubs (A)..... Total (A + B)
Q1 ..... 55,488 ..... 77,520 ..... 133,008
Q2 ..... 64,037 ..... 84,919 ..... 143,069
Q3 ..... 63,859 ..... 88,984 ..... 152,843
Q1-Q3 ..... 183,384 ..... 251,423 ..... 428,920

*Based on preliminary weekly data from the USPTO website. Totals may change after the fact due to withdrawn patents and published applications.

Table 2. Number Ranges, Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2010

Utility patents ..... 7,640,598 - 7,805,766

Reissues ..... RE41,067 - RE41,788
PGPubs ..... 2010/0000001 - 2010/0251450
Designs ..... D607,176 - D624,725
Plants ...... PP20,622 - PP21,353
SIRs ..... H2,234 - H2,249

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

New Database of IP Case Studies

The WIPO has launched a new database that contains profiles of intellectual property case studies from around the world. The collection of 100+ cases cover patents, trade marks and copyright and could be an excellent source of material for presentations and programs.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Changes to Class 386 - Classification Order 1900

The USPTO has changed the title of Class 386, Television Signal Processing for Dynamic Recording or Reproducing. The new title is Motion Video Signal Processing for Recording or Reproducing. These and other changes are detailed in Classification Order 1900, issued on Sept. 7, 2010. The order abolishes subclasses 1-131 and establishes subclasses 200-361.

Approximately 16,441 patents (91 percent issued after 1975) are classified in Class 386. There are more than 13,000 published applications classified in Class 386. The oldest patent in the class is No. 1,116,949, issued on November 10, 1914 to a Dr. Curt Stille of Berlin, Germany for a new method of transmitting photographs telegraphically. It's unknown if Stille's invention was a commercial success, but in the years after he received a number of patents related to the transmission and recording of sound. In the 1920s, Stille entered into a partnership with the Marconi Wireless Telegraphic Co. to produce and market a tape recording machine called the Marconi-Stille.

The top patent owners in Class 386 include Sony, Toshiba, Matsushita, Canon, Samsung, Hitachi, LG and Thomson Licensing.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Etch A Sketch!

Etch A Sketch, the iconic drawing toy of the 1960s and 1970s, is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. It was invented in the mid 1950s by Andre Cassagnes, an electrician in France. Lacking funds to patent his invention, Mr Cassagnes sought help from an investor named Paul Chaze. Chaze agreed to pay the patent application fees and act as Cassagnes' agent. He eventually persuaded the Ohio Art Company to license the toy, which it launched during the 1960 holiday season.

Curiously, when Chaze sent his business partner Arthur Grandjean to apply for a patent, somehow Grandjean's name ended up on the application as the inventor. Grandjean applied for a French patent in May 1959, which was followed two months later by a U.S. application. The U.S. patent, 3,055,113, issued on May 31, 1962. Other patents followed in Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

Although Etch A Sketch became a hugely popular toy the patent makes only a minor reference to its amusement applications. In fact, the title of the patent is "Tracing Device". The patent is classified under Class 33, geometrical instruments.

The Ohio Art Company continued to develop the Etch A Sketch in response to changing tastes and technology. In 1988, it received a patent, 4,764,763, for an electronic version of the toy marketed as the Etch A Sketch Animator 2000. It was not a success. The original design is as popular as ever and is sold in classic, mini, pocket and travel sizes.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Patent Models Index

The Smithsonian has published new guide and index to patent models owned by the National Museum of American History. The two volume work is available for free online and can also be purchased in hard copy from the Smithsonian Institution Press. Volume 1 provides listings by patent number and title of the invention. Volume 2 contains listings by inventor name and residence. A great resource for fans and collectors of 19th century patent models.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

U.S. Patent Counts, Q2 2010

There was a huge jump in the number of issued U.S. patents in Q2. The USPTO issued 64,037 patents from April through June, 15.4 percent more than in Q1 and 31.7 percent more than the same period in 2009. The number of published applications also increased 9.5 percent, reversing a downward trend first noted in Q4 2009. If this output continues through the rest of the year the USPTO will publish a record-breaking 550,000 documents.

Table 1. Quarterly Patent Counts*

2010 ..... Patents (B) .....PGPubs (A)..... Total (A + B)
Q1 ..... 55,488 ..... 77,520 ..... 133,008
Q2 ..... 64,037 ..... 84,919 ..... 143,069

*Based on preliminary weekly data from the USPTO website. Totals may change after the fact due to withdrawn patents and published applications.

Table 2. Number Ranges for 2010, Jan. 1 - June 30

Utility patents ..... 7,640,598 - 7,748,052
Reissues ..... RE41,067 - RE41,411
PGPubs ..... 2010/0000001 - 2010/0162457
Designs ..... D607,176 - D618,875
Plants ...... PP20,622 - PP21,134
SIRs ..... H2,234 - H2,242

Friday, June 11, 2010

What's Your Poison?

Actor Dan Ackroyd's latest venture into the wine/spirits market has run afoul of Ontario bureaucrats. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) has refused to sell Ackroyd's Crystal Head brand vodka at its retail stores because it comes in a skull-shaped bottle.

The beer, wine and spirits industry is highly competitive, so many companies try to obtain maximum IP protection for their products. This includes protecting the shape or design of containers. Akroyd's company has filed US trademark applications (see 77967530) for the shape of the container and has also successfully applied for design patent protection: US D589,360 S was issued on March 31, 2009.

The skull motiff has been the subject of several US design patents, and has its very own classification in the USPC, D9/626. The earliest patent in this subclass was issued in 1890 (D20,135) for the design of a bottle shaped like a casket with the word "poison" and a skull emblazoned on the front. In fact, many of the early patents in this subclass are for bottles for poison. Images associated with death or the supernatural are a little more hip today, and recently issued patents are clearly for consumer products.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

New ECLA Codes for Green Technologies

The European Patent Office has created a new classification scheme for green technologies and applications related to the mitigation of climate change. The new category, identified as Y02 in the ECLA classification, has two main subclasses:


Each subclass is further subdivided into dozens of sub-groups. There are about 17,000 patents classified in Y02 but more will appear in the coming weeks.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Google Hosts Bulk USPTO Patent Data

The USPTO and Google have entered a two-year agreement to allow Google to provide bulk patent and trademark data to the public, according to a USPTO press release dated June 2.

The agreement requires Google to host the data at no charge and without modification. It appears that the data is being offered in weekly segments, at least for the last ten years or so. Older data (pre-1996) is offered in yearly files.

This is a great day for public access to patent information, especially for people who want to mine patent data or build large patent databases. I'm not sure how useful it will be for average users who might want to download a much smaller, targeted set of data.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

US Assignment Data in INPADOC

The EPO recently announced that US assignment data will be updated weekly instead of bimonthly in the INPADOC legal status database, which also means that it will be available via esp@cenet.

The data will be captured from the USPTO's assignment database one week after it is posted.

This is a much appreciated improvement. It will save searchers a lot of time switching back and forth between esp@cenet/INPADOC and the USPTO database.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Canadian Inventor/Designer Robert Dickie

The Globe and Mail's business magazine has an interesting profile of Canadian inventor and industrial designer Robert G. Dickie. ("The Business of Brainstorms", April 29) Dickie's firm, Spark Innovations, is responsible for designing dozens of products ranging from electric toothbrushes to medical devices. He has 51 Canadian patents and published applications, 84 US patents and 62 published applications, and has filed dozens more around the world. He also has some unconventional ideas on what makes a successful invention and inventor.

Monday, April 26, 2010

10th World IP Day and New Logo for WIPO

Today is the 10th anniversary of World Intellectual Property Day and the 40th anniversary of the WIPO.

In celebration, WIPO has adopted a new logo. It's the first time the logo has been changed since the organization was established in 1970.

Although some people will probably complain that the new logo is too "corporate", I think it's a definite improvement over the old one, which was cluttered... And what was the deal with the big star anyway? It always reminded me of a Soviet military medal.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Green Tech Program

Scientific American reports that the USPTO has approved only one third of the requests filed under its new "Green Tech" examination pilot program.

Wikipedia Not an Authoritative Source, Judges Tell Govt. Officials

Several Canadian judges have criticized immigration officials for citing Wikipedia articles in decisions to deport or deny entrance to foreigners. (Judges rap Wiki-evidence... Globe and Mail, Apr. 21) This is the most recent case of government agents using the online collaborative encyclopedia as an authoritative source.

In 2006 the USPTO ordered patent examiners not to use Wikipedia as a source of prior art information, but the number of patents that cite Wikipedia has continued to increase. (Many references are provided by applicants.) In the first four months of 2010, 348 issued patents contained references to wikipedia articles, a 27 percent increase over the same period last year.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chinese Patent Number System

According to a note on the EPO's Asian Patent Helpdesk, the Chinese patent office has adopted a new numbering scheme for published applications and issued patents. Prior to April 2010, applications and patents were published with different numbers. The new system uses the same number for both stages with the appropriate document kind code, e.g. A, A8 and A9 for published applications and B, B8 and B9 for granted patents.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reporting Data Errors in Patent Databases

Kudos to esp@cenet for providing an easy and convenient way for users to report data errors. Each record includes a link to an error reporting form; all you have to do is click and fill in a few lines. This week I reported my first error (an incorrect application number and date) and within two days the record was updated.

Why don't more patent offices do this? Patent databases are teeming with errors. You'd think they would take advantage of the tens of thousands of users who use their databases every day.

The USPTO provides an e-mail for reporting data errors but it's located on a page outside the database, which means that you have to stop your search, open up a new window, find the page and then compose an e-mail. Very cumbersome.

I wasn't able to find any way to report an error in the WIPO's PatentScope. The CIPO's Canadian Patent Database includes the e-mail and telephone number for the Client Service Centre in each record, but it doesn't make it clear that you can or should report errors.

New University Patents Database

FreePatentsOnline has partnered with Technology Transfer Tactics, a website for university tech transfer professionals, to provide a resource for searching university-owned patents.

Data for about 150 universities (mostly American) is available. Clicking on a name of a university will retrieve a list of US patents and published applications assigned to that university.

The number retrieved may be different from what you retrieve in a manual search. For example, the link for Johns Hopkins University retrieved 1,766 documents, but I was able to retrieve 1,950 documents in FPO using the search query an/"johns hopkins". The same search in the USPTO databases retrieved 1,852 documents. It's not clear why this is so, but it may be because the data in the university patent search is not in sync with the live FPO database.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Boliven Acquired by CambridgeIP

Members of the Boliven Network were notified today via e-mail that the service has been acquired by CambridgeIP, a UK-based intellectual property research and strategy consulting firm. Details about the deal will be forthcoming.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Ghost of Patents Past

Have you ever noticed old patent numbers printed on new products? I own a pie dough blender that I bought new about 15 years ago. Etched on its blade are three US patent numbers, 1486255, 1645052 and 1724356.

A quick check in a patent database reveals that these were issued in 1924, 1927 and 1929, respectively. All three would have expired between 1941-1946, so what are the doing on a product manufactured almost fifty years later? As it turns out, marking products with expired or fake patent numbers is common.

Under U.S. law (35 U.S.C. 292) such false marking can result in a fine of up to $500. Historically, courts have limited damages in such cases to $500 per offense. This may change due to a recent ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in the case of Forest Group, Inc. v Bon Tool Company. The CAFC ruling, if it stands, would apply the penalty to each falsely marked item, which could quickly add up to a significant sum. What's even more interesting is that the statute allows any person to bring suit and, if successful, receive 50 percent of the penalty.

So my little $2 dough blender might be worth a couple hundred dollars. Hmmm...
In fact, there might be a small fortune of falsely marked gadgets in my kitchen. Certainly enough to pay for a new HDTV.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Retrospective Kind Codes in Espacenet

The other day a colleague asked me why an "A" appeared at the end of older US patent numbers in espacenet records.

I immediately answered that it's a
document kind code: "A" is used for the first publication, "B" for the second and "C" for the third. However, something was odd about their presence in espacenet. The USPTO only started applying kind codes to patent documents in 2001, so why did they appear in older patents? Apparently, espacenet is retrospectively applying them to patent numbers.

This might be confusing to some searchers because the "A" kind code is generally associated with published applications, not issued patents, which are usually marked "B" or "C". However, some countries only recently started publishing applications. For example, the US in 2001 and Canada in 1990. In these cases, the issued patent was the first publication, hence the "A". From Jan. 1, 2001 forward, US patents are marked "B". Canadian patents were marked "A" prior to Oct. 1, 1989 and "C" afterward.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

US Patent Counts, Q1 2010

The USPTO issued 55,488 patents in Q1, 11.3 percent more than the previous quarter and a 12 percent increase over the same period last year. In fact, this was the largest quarterly total in five years. The number of published applications was 77,520, a decline of 12.3 percent from the previous quarter. The global recession has had a negative impact on patent filings worldwide, with most patent offices reporting a decline in new applications over the past year. Since patent applications are published 18 months after filing, the number of published applications may continue to drop throughout 2010.

Table 1. Quarterly Patent Counts*

2010 ..... Patents (B) .....PGPubs (A)..... Total (A + B)
Q1 ..... 55,488 ..... 77,520 ..... 133,008

*Based on preliminary weekly data from the USPTO website. Totals may change after the fact due to withdrawn patents and published applications.

Table 2. Number Ranges for 2010, Jan. 1 - Mar. 30

Utility patents ..... 7,640,598 - 7,690,047
Reissues ..... RE41,067 - RE41,187
PGPubs ..... 2010/0000001 - 2010/0077525
Designs ..... D607,176 - D613,025
Plants ...... PP20,622 - PP20,912
SIRs ..... H2,234

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fostering Canadian Innovation

Today's Globe and Mail has another op-ed piece arguing that Canada needs to do better at promoting innovation and investing in R&D. ("Innovation is Our Hidden Deficit") It's probably true that Canada could do more at home to support innovation and the commercialization of new products. But the picture improves when you look at Canada's performance on the world stage.

For example, Canadian inventors and companies file more patent applications in the U.S. than they do in Canada. In 2007-2008, Canadian inventors filed 11,436 new patent applications with the USPTO but only 5,086 with the CIPO. This is not surprising given that most Canadian companies are eager to protect their IP in the US market. A strong portfolio of US patents will foster new partnerships, investments and business opportunities.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hidden Gems in the USPC: Cross-References & Digests

I'm not a huge fan of the U.S. Patent Classification System. It's not intuitive and its documentation can be intimidating. The structure of the USPC is a mish-mash of historical practices and applied theories. Although it's frequently described as a hierarchical system, it's actually flat, like a train. The numbering and arrangement of the classes (railway cars) has no relationship to their contents. For example, patents relating to Fences, Active Solid-State Devices and Railway Mail Delivery are classified in Classes 256, 257 and 258, respectively. When the number of documents in a class becomes to large, the USPTO simply moves the overflow to another class, not necessarily next to the original. For example, Class 128: Surgery is continued in Classes 604, 606 and 607. All four classes are treated as one mega-class.

As much as I dislike the USPC, it has some useful features (hidden gems) that are worth mentioning. For example, the special classifications called cross-reference art collections (CRACs) and digests. Digests and CRACs differ slightly in scope, but their functions are similar: to identify specific subject matter that doesn't quite fit into an existing USPC subclass. CRACs and digests are located at the end of the class schedule; numbers 900-999 are reserved for CRACs, while digests are identified by the prefix DIG. For example, in Class 2: Apparel, subclass 901 is used for articles of clothing with antibacterial, antitoxin or clean room properties. In the same class, DIG10 is reserved for inflatable hats. Neither code can be assigned as the primary classification.

These supplemental classifications are extremely useful for searching concepts that are not provided for in the regular classification system, e.g. drugs for the treatment of specific types of diseases, chemical technology for decreasing pollution, etc.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bird Airbags?

Last year a large wind farm went up on an island near Kingston, Ontario, where I live. The installation consists of 86 turbines scattered around the island, dozens of which are visible from the city’s waterfront. The decision to build the farm was controversial. Although everyone likes the idea of clean renewable energy, many people feared the impact of the farm on the natural landscape, human health and wildlife habitat. Kingston sits astride a major North American migration route and some residents expressed concerns that untold numbers of migrating birds, as well as local bats and birds, would perish on the rotating blades. This has been a problem for wind farms all over the world.

One Californian inventor has come up with a uniquely novel solution: airbags for birds. In May 2008, John Silwa of Los Altos Hills filed an application for a "Method and Apparatus for Reducing Bird and Fish Injuries and Deaths at Wind and Water-Turbine Power-Generation Sites” (US 2008/0298962). The invention consists of airbags installed on turbine blades that would be activated by a motion-sensing or proximity sensing system. In theory, birds approaching the blades would trigger the airbags and bounce off unharmed or with “temporary stunning, blackout or non-critical injury.” It’s hard to believe that an airbag mounted on a spinning turbine weighing several tons would save a tiny bird.

Other inventors have taken more conventional approaches. Dr. William Hodos, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Maryland, patented a system of painted patterns on turbine blades that make them more visible to birds (US 6,623,243). Melvin Kreithen of the University of Pittsburgh proposed using pulses of microwave energy to scare birds away from turbines and other structures (US 5,774,088). A published application filed by Keith Lima of Massachusetts discloses a system of ultrasonic or sonic wave generators that would deter birds from flying into wind turbines (US 2005/0162978). Canadian Angus Tocher has patented a “habitat friendly” wind energy extraction system based on small turbines encased in shrouds (CA 2,501,025 and US 7,220,096). German inventor H. Schlueter proposes mounting an ultrasonic sound producing device on rotor blades to warn bats (DE 102007025314).

The interdisciplinary nature of this problem makes it an interesting patent search challenge. The obvious starting point would be IPC class F03D, which covers wind motors and turbines. One possible search strategy is:

IPC = F03D AND Title/Abstract Keyword = (birds or bats or animals or fowl)

Other appropriate IPC codes include A01M29, which covers devices for scaring animals and birds, and H04B1 for electric signaling systems and G08B3 for audible signaling devices that could be used to frighten or warn animals.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Patent Database Review

There were a lot of developments in patent information last year. Below are some of the highlights from my favorite public patent databases and related websites.

Canadian Patents Database (CIPO)

The Canadian Patents Database, which is maintained by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, contains more than two million Canadian patents and published applications from 1869 to the present. Full-text images are available from 1920 forward. Recent improvements include a few aesthetic changes to the search interface and the inclusion of a representative drawing (if available) displayed in the bibliographic record. In addition, as of January 29, 2010, abstracts in both English and French are available for applications filed under the PCT. (Approximately 75 percent of patent applications received by the CIPO are filed via the PCT system.)

PatentScope (WIPO)

PatentScope is the public database of record for PCT international patent applications published by the World Intellectual Property Organization. It contains approximately 1.7 million international applications published from 1978 forward. In 2009, WIPO extended PatentScope to include national patent collections from the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, Cuba, Israel, Korea, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa and Vietnam. The largest of these are Korea (1.3 million documents from 1973-2007), Mexico (180,000 documents from 1991-2009) and Israel (144,000 documents from 1900-1999). WIPO also introduced a new search interface with simple, structured and browse functions, and the option to display search results as tables or graphs. The “classic” PatentScope search interface is still available for searching PCT international applications.

Esp@cenet (EPO)

Esp@cenet is a collection of free international and national patent databases hosted by the European Patent Office (EPO). The worldwide database contains approximately 60 million patent documents from more than 80 countries and over one million non-patent literature references.

Early in the year, the EPO extended esp@cenet’s coverage of Latin American countries, adding several thousand patent documents from Chile (2005-2008), Ecuador (2005-2006), Nicaragua (2006-2008) and Panama (1999-2006). During the summer, more than six million U.S. patent assignment records dating back to 1981 were reloaded. Legal status data was added or reloaded for Russian patent and utility models, Polish patents, and Chinese patents and utility models dating back to October 1985.

At the end of the year, the EPO announced a number of enhancements that were implemented in early 2010. These include highlighted search terms in titles, abstracts and full-text; full-text searching for EP and WO documents in all three official languages; and the ability to sort search results by date, inventor, applicant and ECLA code. Users can now enter more search terms in any one field (the previous limit was four).

In related news, the French National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) replaced its old fee-based patent and trademark search systems with free web-based services. These include legal status information for granted French patents (B documents) and European patents designating France. (French patents are not available in the esp@cenet worldwide database but may be accessed via the French esp@cenet gateway.) Other services include databases of French designs and models from 1910 forward and international designs and models from 1979 forward.


The USPTO hosts several public databases, including the two main patent databases, PatFT, containing issued patents from 1976 forward and AppFT, covering published applications from 2001 forward. Other databases include the Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) system and the Patent Assignment Database, which contains recorded patent assignment information from 1980 to present. The USPTO website underwent a major reorganization in mid-2009 but there were no significant changes to the patent databases.

U.S. patent documents reached several notable milestones in 2009. In February, the USPTO published the two millionth application. The USPTO published the first application (A document) on March 15, 2001. Prior to that date, applications remained confidential until a patent issued. On March 3rd, patent no. 7,500,000 was issued and on May 19th plant patent no. 20,000 was granted.

President Obama’s new initiative to expand public access to government information and data could have a big impact on the USPTO. In September, the USPTO posted an RFI called the USPTO’s Data Dissemination Solution. The proposal seeks input from public or private sector parties interested in helping the USPTO make virtually all its public information freely accessible on the internet. The USPTO estimates that all of its data sets total about two petabytes. In exchange, the parties will be able to retain and use the data for their own purposes. It will be interesting to see if the USPTO can find any partners willing to accept these terms.

Last fall, David Kappos, the new Director of the USPTO, launched a blog called the Director’s Forum. In a recent post he expressed a desire to update the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP), the USPTO’s handbook of patent rules and regulations. He described the current system used to produce the MPEP as an embarrassment. It takes too long to update and is cumbersome to produce. There are good document management systems that could solve these problems. Kappos also suggested that a reengineered MPEP could include wiki-style content contributed by patent professionals.

Patent Lens

Patent Lens is a free full-text patent database maintained by Cambia, an independent, non-profit research institute based in Australia. It contains approximately 10 million full-text patent documents published by the Australian patent office (1998+), USPTO (1976+), EPO (1978+) and WIPO (1978+). One of its unique features is the ability to search for gene sequences in patent documents using NCBI’s Blast software. Recent improvements to Patent Lens include a new patent search interface in Chinese and French and the ability to search PCT applications in the language of filing or publication, e.g. Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Spanish. Patent family trees now include a key explaining the family member colour-coding system.


FreePatentsOnline (FPO) is a free full-text patent database launched in 2005 by James Ryley. It covers full-text patent documents published by the EPO, USPTO and WIPO, and Japanese patent abstracts. Early in 2009, FPO added titles for patents cited on the front page of U.S. patent documents. (The actual printed patent lists only the number, date and inventor name.) Around mid-year, FPO launched a spin-off site called LocalPatents that maps U.S. patent data to geographic location. Patent clusters display on a map of the U.S. Users can zoom from the state level down to individual towns and cities and retrieve patents granted to residents of that location.

Boliven Patents

In January 2009, Boliven, a small start-up based in NYC, launched a website designed for professional entrepreneurs, inventors, researchers and patent attorneys. One of the resources offered was a patent database that covered U.S. patents from 1976 forward, EP documents from 1978 forward, PCT applications from 1989 forward and Japanese patent abstracts. Korean patents and INPADOC data were added later. The search interface included several innovative features, including a “Quick Flip” display option for rapidly viewing patent documents, faceted filtering and analytical tools for displaying search results as charts and graphs. Registered users could save searches, create search alerts and download data. Although the search engine performed well for keyword searches, it struggled with USPC and IPC classifications, producing results that were unreliable and inaccurate.

From January to April 2009, access to the patent database was free. On May 5, Boliven’s management announced that it would begin charging users $60 per month. Within a few weeks, however, it changed course and announced that the patent database, among other services, would remain free and that it would attempt to generate revenue from other services. Additional collections of public documents and records were added over the course of the year. However, the website’s future is uncertain. On January 15, 2010, Boliven’s management suddenly announced that it would cease operations as of January 22, citing its failure to meet operational and financial goals. As of February 23, the website and patent database are still online, although no new patent data appears to have been loaded since December.


PatSnap is a new fee-based patent search and analytics service launched in 2009 by a Singapore-based company. It covers full-text patent documents from the U.S. (1971+), Europe (1978+) and PCT (1978+) and Chinese patent abstracts from 1985 forward. A free trial was offered to members of ELD. Users can register for a free basic account that includes searching and viewing documents from the U.S., European and PCT collections. A day pass costs $39 and includes Chinese patent abstracts, basic analysis, 100 PDF downloads and 500 bibliographic data exports per day. The full plan costs $199 per month. PatSnap has a well-designed user interface, good search options and powerful analytic tools. Keyword searches performed well compared with other public patent databases, but classification searches did not produce the expected results.

Related News & Websites

Intellogist is a new website and online community for professional patent searchers. It is sponsored by Landon IP, a firm located in Alexandria, Virginia specializing in patent and trademark searches and patent analytics, and supported in part by advertisements. Both novice and experienced patent searchers will find it very useful. Resources include profiles of commercial and public patent databases, comparisons of patent search system capabilities, national patent coverage, best practices in prior art searching and a glossary. Registered users can contribute and revise content.

International Patent Classification (IPC)

There are major changes afoot for the IPC in 2010. The division between core and advanced levels, which was introduced in 2006, will be removed. Patent offices currently classifying documents using the core level will now use the main groups instead. New versions of the IPC will be published once a year in electronic format only. The integration of local classification systems (USPC, ECLA and JPO FI/F Term) will be accelerated.

IP5 Initiatives

The world’s five major patent offices (USPTO, EPO, JPO, SIPO and KIPO) known as the IP5 moved forward on series of joint projects announced at the end of 2008. The EPO is the lead office tasked with developing a common documentation database and common approach to patent classification. The USPTO is leading the development of a common approach to sharing and document search strategies and common search and examination support tools. The JPO will develop a common application format and access to search and examination results. KIPO is responsible for training policy and mutual machine translation. And the SIPO is working on a common set of rules for examination practice and quality control.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Converting CO2 into Fuel?

Most people believe that the only solution to global climate change is government-imposed regulations to curb the amount of CO2 spewing into the atmosphere. But perhaps there is a market based alternative? Neil Reynolds in the Globe & Mail recently mentioned an intriguing new technology developed by Carbon Sciences, Inc. that converts CO2 into gasoline and other fuels.

Carbon Sciences, which is based in Santa Barbara, provides technical info on its website, but the idea still sounds a little like alchemy to me. So I went looking for the company's patents but found only one published application, US2008277319, for a "Fine Particle CO2 Transformation and Sequestration." The inventor is Michael Wyrsta. Interestingly, Wyrsta is an inventor on several other patents assigned to another Santa Barbara company called GRT or Gas Reaction Technologies. GRT's patent portfolio includes several patents that describe technology for converting gases into hydrocarbons. Could there be a connection between both companies? GRT has a website, but it doesn't look like it's been updated in several years. The USPTO assignment database has no record of GRT assigning its patents to Carbon Sciences. This example illustrates how difficult it is to establish the provence of a technology.

World Intellectual Property Day - 10th Anniversary

The theme of World Intellectual Property Day, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is "Innovation - Linking the World." There are many innovations that have brought the world closer together. Here is my top ten list of representative technologies and the decades in which they emerged.
  • Telegraph (1840s)
  • Industrial papermaking & automated presses (1880s)
  • Telephone (1890s)
  • Radio (1910s)
  • Television (1950s)
  • Networked mainframe computers (1960s)
  • Digital photocomposition (1970s)
  • Internet & e-mail (1980s)
  • World Wide Web (1990s)
  • Cell phone networks (1990s)
  • Web 2.0 & social networks (2000s)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

New: Intellogist Blog

The Intellogist, a wiki for patent searchers, has launched a blog. It's a nice addition to a site that already has some great resources, including patent search system profiles and comparisons, coverage information and best practices for patent searching. I look forward to following it...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

PCT Coverage in Public Patent Databases

How the data in a database or search engine is structured is as important (or more so) as the data itself.

I was reminded of this old rule-of-thumb a couple of weeks ago when I decided to compare coverage of PCT applications in public patent databases, namely PatentScope, FreePatentsOnline, esp@cenet, and Patent Lens. The results were fairly consistent until I got to Patent Lens, where my benchmark searches retrieved far more documents than the other three databases. (See table below.)

Most surprising was that my date of publication searches retrieved many more documents for five of the six dates I had selected. If PatentScope, which is the official record of the WIPO, says that 3,280 PCT applications were published on March 19, 2009, why did Patent Lens tell me it found 4,364? Obviously, this has serious implications for anyone using Patent Lens to do competitive intelligence, market research or simply track the number of PCTs filed by their organization.

Fortunately, the friendly folks at Patent Lens provided the explanation: Patent Lens indexes all versions of published PCTs, which inflates the number of retrieved documents. This includes subsequently published international search reports (A3 or A9), amended (A4) and corrected versions (A9). PatentScope and espacenet link these documents to the record for the initial publication (A1 or A2). FreePatentsOnline's PCT coverage apparently includes only the first published application (A1 or A2), although I haven't yet confirmed it. This explains the consistency in search results in FPO, PatentScope and esp@cenet.

So what are the practical implications for non-IP professionals who use Patent Lens? Well, if a researcher or tenure-track professor searches his or her name or university, they may get an inflated document count.

Monday, January 25, 2010

USPTO Reorganizes Classes 210 and 707

The USPTO has published two more classification orders affecting Class 210, Liquid Purification and Separation, and Class 707, Data Processing: Database and File Management or Data Structures. (#1890 and #1893)

Approximately 83,767 patents and 14,473 published applications are classified in Class 210. The earliest patent is no. X5,013, which was registered on Feb. 22, 1828 to a Christopher Hall of Norfolk, Virginia for a method of purifying and filtering water. Of the 84,000 patents in Class 210, 56.5 percent were issued after 1975.

Approximately 35,547 patents and 53,792 published applications are classified in Class 707. The overwhelming majority of patents in this class, 99.2 percent, were issued after 1975. The earliest patent in Class 707 was issued in 1959 to French inventors Claude Rene Jean Dumousseau and Andre Edouard Joseph Chatelon and assigned to the International Standard Electric Co. of New York, a subsidiary of international telecom giant International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT). The French engineers' patent, US 2,881,415, describes a system for recording and selecting information, e.g. a telephone call answering system.

Espacenet Enhancements

This morning I discovered several nice enhancements in esp@cenet:

1. Expanded search terms
For years the maximum number of search terms you could input in any esp@cenet field was four. This limitation appears to have been lifted. I was able to successfully run searches using five or more terms.

2. Highlighted search terms
Search terms are now highlighted in retrieved titles and abstracts.

3. Sorting search results
Search results can be sorted by priority date, inventor, applicant, ECLA code and upload date.

The latest issue of the EPO's Patent Information News hints at more improvements to come later this year.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Boliven Withdraws from the Field

According to an e-mail notice sent to members last week, Boliven, a social networking service aimed at inventors, researchers and IP professionals will cease operations today. It was still online as of 5:00pm EST today. (Jan. 22)

The service was launched just a year ago. In addition to networking services, it offered access to millions of public documents, including patent documents from the U.S., Europe, Japan, Korea and the WIPO. The patent database had a nice interface and excellent tools for analyzing search results, but the search engine had significant problems understanding patent classification codes, which greatly limited its usefulness.

Boliven wasn't the first free patent database to offer analytical tools. WIPO's PatentScope database introduced them in 2006. Last year FreePatentsOnline launched a cool map mash-up called that maps U.S. patents by geographic location.

Although I really enjoyed using the analytical tools, Boliven's business model never made sense to me. After all, there are already plenty of free and commercial patent databases and networking sites. In May, after allowing users to test the site for free for a few months, it announced that it would start charging for access to its databases. A few weeks later it did an about-face and announced that members would continue to have free access.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Wikipedia Citations in Patents Up 59 Percent

The number of U.S. patents issued last year that contain one or more references to Wikipedia articles totalled 809, a 59 percent jump from 2008. Several years ago the USPTO banned patent examiners from using Wikipedia as a source of information for determining patentability of inventions. However, examiners and applicants continue to cite it. Wikipedia articles represent only a fraction of interet resources cited in patents. More than 17,000 U.S. patents issued last year have one or more cited references containing a URL.