Do you know where your patent data comes from?

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In the most recent issue of the EPO’s Patent Information News, there’s an interesting interview with Peter Paris, who is retiring this year after a long and distinguished career in the patent information community. I was interested to read about Peter’s experience as one of the original members of the Austrian company INPADOC, which first created several vital patent data files that search vendors rely on extensively today.

If the subject sounds dry, stick with it a little longer, because understanding these files is an important step in comparing the data coverage of various patent search systems.  Here is a very shortened, very simplified explanation of what the INPADOC files are and what they mean to the everyday patent searcher.

The trouble with patent information is that each authority publishes their own collection of patent documents.   But as we know, applicants tend to file for protection in multiple countries, creating widespread patent “families,” or sets of related documents across national collections.    Furthermore, these applications may all proceed through their respective national examinations in different ways – some may be granted, while others are abandoned.  These various legal status changes can be difficult to pin down.

In the early 70s a private Austrian company called INPADOC developed some of the first patent information products (meaning electronic databases) in an attempt to address these challenges.  They produced a patent family file, and separate legal status file.

Creating these files is a difficult job, because it requires data updates from various patent offices all over the world.  The private company INPADOC had to charge a lot of money for this data.  In accordance with its mission to make patent data widely available, the European Patent Office (EPO) took over INPADOC’s operations in 1991, and the price of the data was drastically reduced.

The EPO then combined its own patent data files with the INPADOC data to make a new, improved worldwide patent family file called DOCDB, containing bibliographic data, titles, abstracts and citations for patent documents from over 80 patent issuing authorities.  The legal status file is still often referred to as INPADOC legal status, and it contains status data from over 40 countries.  The EPO still manages and distributes both products.

Now, here’s the important part: almost every commercial patent search vendor out there relies on these products in part to build their own worldwide data collections.   When your vendor says that they offer coverage of patents from over X countries,  I think it makes sense to ask them what sources they are using in addition to the DOCDB and INPADOC legal status files, and/or how they are augmenting and improving this data.   This information is not always easy to uncover but I think it’s key to comparing search system coverage information.

I’ll also add that the situation is quite nuanced, any my knowledge of it is hard-fought as a relative newbie in the field, having only 5 years of experience in patent information.  Documentation of these issues is scarce, and I believe vendors usually want to keep their source information proprietary.  I absolutely invite further explanatory comments from those of you who have more to add about this issue.

In addition, the INPADOC article on Intellogist is an open wiki page, and we invite you to document your expertise for the benefit of the community, and future generations of patent searchers!

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Patent Searches from Landon IP

This post was contributed by Intellogist team member Kristin Whitman.


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