What you need to know about changes to Google Patents

Users of the free Google Patents search service may have noticed some changes to the search interface,  display options, and coverage for the system in the past week, and some of these changes are briefly mentioned in the Official Google Blog. The most obvious alteration to the search interface is that all search tool options are now located above the search results, instead of in a side-menu to the left of the result list. The grid configuration is also no longer available for the result set, so users can only view the results in a list view.  For each result, users have the option to select “Overview” (full record), “Related” (link to Prior Art Finder tool), or “Discuss” (link to the “Ask Patents” website). Finally, EP patent documents can now be searched on the Google Patents interface.   Most of these alterations are relatively neutral and will not affect your search strategy, but the addition of EP patent documents is a big improvement to the coverage of the Google Patents system.  The decision to get rid of the grid view will come as a disappointment to patent searchers specialized in the mechanical arts who often use images in search result lists to judge relevance (just as the disappearance of the Cover View in the summer of 2011 was equally disappointing).

After the jump, we’ll take a tour of the recent changes to the coverage, search and viewing options on Google Patents!

Filter Options
After selecting the Patent Search option from the Google Products page and conducting an initial search through the keyword search form for Google Patents, the user will notice a prominent change to the filtering options that previously appeared as a side-menu to the left of the search results.  The search options are now displayed in a horizontal menu above the results, with the “Patents” option currently selected.  Users can select “More” to view additional search options (videos, news, books, places, etc.), or select the “Search tools” option to expand a secondary menu displaying all filter tools for the patents search. Filtering options for the patent search includes:

  • Time period (any time, filing date, publication date) – Users are prompted to enter a date range.
  • Patent office (any, US, EP)
  • Filing status (any, applications, issued patents)
  • Patent type (any, utility, design, plant, defensive publication, additional improvement, or statutory invention registration)

Users also have the option to sort by relevance, filing date (oldest), or filing date (newest).  The patent office filtering tool seems to be a new option, since previously Google Patents only covered US documents.  Now, the system additionally covers documents issued by the European Patent Office, dating back to about 1978.

The filtering options are now displayed in a horizontal menu above the search results, and users can search EP documents.

Changes to the Hitlist

One of the main changes to the hitlist for Google Patents is that the Grid View is no longer available, and users are only able to view the results through a List View. The Grid View displayed multiple representative images of results in a grid format, with only basic bibliographic information included for each result.  This view was useful for searchers specializing the the mechanical arts, who could quickly page through large search result sets by judging relevance based on the representative image grid.  Representative images are still included for each result in the list view, which is now the only display option available, but more bibliographic data, a keyword-in-context snippet, and additional links are also included for each result.  Users therefore can’t page through this display as quickly as they could with the grid view, which consolidated more results onto a single page with only basic data and an image for each result.

For both US and EP documents, users are given three main links for each result (with additional links to various sections of the patent document offered for only US documents):

  • Overview – Access the main full record view for the patent, which includes bibliographic data, citations (forward and backward), claims, and a link to download the full PDF version of the document.
  • Related – Use the Prior Art Finder to find non-patent literature related to specific keywords relevant to the patent document.
  • Discuss- View any discussions related to the patent at the Ask Patents website.

Search result for a US document (including extra links to specific sections of the document).

Result for an EP document (with only the three links to Overview, Related, and Discuss).

Conclusion

While the option to search EP documents in Google Patents is a major improvement to the coverage of the system, the disappearance of the Grid View may be an inconvenience to mechanical patent searchers who preferred the condensed and image-heavy display that the Grid View provided.  The transfer of the filtering options to the top of the page may save the user a few seconds that were previously spent scrolling down a bit to view the filtering side-menu.  This slight convenience may be negated by the fact that the user must now select the Search Tools option before the filtering menu is displayed.  Overall, the new interface for the filtering options provides no real benefits or drawbacks to the user and seems to be mostly an aesthetic improvement to the interface which some users may slightly prefer over the old side-menu.  The new EP coverage and the disappearance of the Grid View are the two changes that will affect patent searchers in the long run.

What do you think of these changes to the Google Patents search interface, display, and coverage? Let us know in the comments!

Patent Searches from Landon IP

This post was contributed by Joelle Mornini. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company Landon IP, a major provider of patent searches, trademark searches, technical translations, and information retrieval services.

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