Once again, the 800 pound gorilla of the search world has weighed in with a potentially dominant product in a niche market -- patent searching. And we certainly need a breath of fresh air in the free patent search world for US patents. So far, we've mostly been stuck with the USPTO site, which isn't that great and which makes you search like mad for a good .tiff file viewer. The work-around has always been to use the USPTO site for search then use one of the other free services to actually get a readable pdf of the patent itself. Weird, cludgy and annoying. Try explaining it to a group of engineering students.
The good news is that the Google system makes it easy to search and view patents without all that fuss and bother. There's lots of information about the product on the Help and FAQ pages.
As usual with google products, they may have rushed it out the door a little too quickly without thinking about some really important functionality:
- Sorting by issue date or patent number. Really, doing a search and finding patents from 1926 at the top of the list is kind of crazy. Try a few searches and you'll see what I mean. They absolutely need to allow sorting by some key fields. This is the most important feature to add.
- The Advanced Search Page is nice, letting you specify what you'd expect. However, the boxes for US and International classification codes don't have links to lists of those codes.
- As usual, they don't tell us exactly what they have in their database. They mention in the FAQ that they're out of sync with the USPTO database by a couple of months and that they don't have applications, but they really should tell us the exact cutoff, as well as emphasizing that serious patent searches should also consult the USTPO database to pick up anything that's missing.
- I may have missed it, but I could find an easy way to print out the whole patent document. On the other hand, if I did miss it, it probably means that it's hidden pretty well and the usability of that feature needs to be addressed. Being able to print the patents seems pretty important.
Despite those caveats, I quite like the new product. The patent detail pages are nicely laid out with good cross-referencing. I'll certainly be adding it to my patent searching repertoire when I'm teaching engineering or other patent-friendly IL classes -- but not with a really top billing until the sorting issue is fixed. Via GoogleBlog.
Update: It seems that I spoke too soon about recommending this product even provisionally. According to Carolyne Sidey on her blog and the SLA Toronto listserv, it seems that Google Patents is radically under representing patent counts for at least some assignees. Her example of Xerox yields 18000 on the USPTO database but only 1200 on Google. I tried searching on Google itself, with 29 on their own product and 36 on the USPTO. I agree with Carolyne that Google Patent Search can't be recommended until this is cleared up.