Are you catching reassigned US patents in your search?

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Update: This post has been edited to reflect that PatBase is jointly operated by Minesoft and RWS Group.

Experienced patent searchers know that searching for patent databases by company name is hard – and I mean really hard.  A company which owns a patent is called the patent “assignee” in the US.  Take a look at our assignee best practices wiki article over on the main Intellogist site to get an overview of some of the obstacles that can trip you up during this kind of search.

One thing that makes patent owner searching so difficult is simply that patents change hands, and when they do, the information published on the patent face is no longer correct.   Another difficulty is that these types of transactions are not always on record at the USPTO.  However, the USPTO does keep a US patent assignment database of all the transactions that they *have* been notified about.   And fortunately, patent search vendors can update their electronic databases with the new assignment information.  (by the way, as far as I know, US reassignment data is the only reassignment data that gets collected and added into commercial patent search products on a regular basis.)

Here is a quick summary of what some major commercial providers do with US reassignment data:

Minesoft and RWS Group’s PatBase -This is a long explanation, but bear with me.

PatBase draws its bibliographic data from the European Patent Office (EPO)’s INPADOC database.  The EPO’s data includes standard and non-standard assignee names. The standardized assignee name is assigned by the EPO, while the non-standard assignee name consists of whatever is published on the patent face. For example, “IBM” would be used by the EPO as a standardized version of “International Business Machines Corporation,” which is the name that might appear on the patent face. (Most commercial patent search tools which draw data from INPADOC will export both the standardized and non-standardized assignee columns into an Excel spreadsheet.)

Rather than creating a separate data field to contain US reassignments, PatBase adds US reassignment data into the “non-standardized assignee” field obtained from the EPO.  In PatBase exports, the non-standardized assignee column will include both the non-standardized assignee name from the patent face, and any new assignee names available from the USPTO’s data.   The combined data is available for export into spreadsheet format, where it will appear in the single column “PA ns,” with the names separated by a semicolon.

As an example, say that an IBM patent was acquired by Google.  The standardized assignee name in column “PA” in a PatBase export would contain the standardized name “IBM.”  The column “PA ns” in a Patbase Export would contain the entry “Google Inc ; International Business Machines Corporation.”

Questel’s QPAT, Qweb and products all rely on the FamPat database, which contains US reassignment data. The data is available for export into spreadsheet format, where it will appear in a separate field, “PAH” (Patent Assignee History).

Thomson Reuters Thomson Innovation – has a separate field for US reassignments.  The data is available for export into spreadsheet format, and will appear in the field “Reassignment – US.”

LexisNexis TotalPatent – has a separate field for US reassignments.  US reassignments are part of the “Legal Info” group of data fields in TotalPatent, and must be exported separately from other bibliographic data. They cannot be exported directly into spreadsheets.

Not to worry –  in all  of these tools, performing a basic “assignee/application” search will run the query through the US reassignment data – it’s just that each vendor puts this data into a different field in the database.  This is just one of the many factors that can make dealing with data exports from different patent search products confusing.

Also, in each case, the USPTO’s data will include patent assignees that are recorded after the publication of the US application (and thus do not appear on the face of the application), as well as any post-issuance reassignment data (a change of ownership that occurs after the patent is granted).

Where else can you search US reassignment data?  Well, the EPO produces the INPADOC legal status file, which is used by almost every commercial patent search vendor as a source of legal status data.     More detail about US assignment information captured in INPADOC is recorded in the newly released documentation for US legal codes in INPADOC, which is available on the EPO website (the seventh row down is the entry for the Assignment field, and the PDF document contains a detailed explanation of the sources for this data).  You can run searches in the full INPADOC legal status record from some patent search platforms.  For example, this can be done in the INPADOCDB/INPAFAMDB databases on STN, or on Questel’s Qweb platform.  In addition, Thomson Innovation has a search field for the INPADOC legal status.  But the web-based commercial search vendors don’t generally make the entire INPADOC legal status records fully searchable.

Whew!  Figuring out where your reassignment data will appear in your export spreadsheet is only one of the many challenges in working with patent data.  Case in point: recently, I have been looking to sort US published applications into those that have definitely been abandoned, and those that are still pending.  I know that we have a lot of very experienced readers –  anyone have any quick method for this that they would like to share?

Thomson Innovation

This post was contributed by Intellogist team member Kristin Whitman. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company, Landon IP, a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.


One Response

  1. Dear Kristin,

    Regarding the EPO standardization of company names, it is important to remember that the system is actually very limited. The driving factor for the EPO process was to limit the size of the names to fit in some old system constraint they had and that no longer exists. These abbreviations are sometimes very challenging and often result in company names that can render the names totally un-intelligible to searchers. I’m thinking mainly of Russian company names, but even abbreviations of French companies and government organizations can quickly become incomprehensible to the Anglophone.

    Questel has its own normalization process, besides normalization name variations such as IBM and INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MACHINES we also resolve all those EPO abbreviations. As of today, we have standardized more than 130,000 company names. All those standardized assignees will appear in the NPA field.

    At Questel we improve the EPO version: For example “CT DE RECH S METALLURG A S B L”. For someone who does not know French, this abbreviation would be incomprehensible and Google translate is also useless as it cannot resolve abbreviations. (Google translate is CT DE RECH S A S B L METALLURG). Questel has resolved the abbreviations to “CENTRE RECHERCHES METALLURGIQUES” and if that is still incomprehensible, then the Google translate to METALLURGICAL RESEARCH CENTER is perfectly understandable.

    204/359 PLUSPAT – (C) Questel- image
    PN – EP1300478 A1 20030409 [EP1300478]

    There are still many names that are not standardized that we continue to work on. This first launch was aimed at normalizing the high patenting companies but we have now turned our attention to other companies.

    Another advantage of our normalization process is that our editing tool allows us to make corrections to the entire backlog within one update period. Compare this to EPO and other “commercial hosts” that for some names can take months to send corrections to the backlog or corrections may come with the annual “reload” delivery.

    As far as US reassignments are concerned, Questel has its own approach as well. The most current US assignee name is posted in the PA field, which means that this is what you see first and the information is not mixed with other names. Then we have a PAH field which is the complete assignee history that shows all the changes over time with start and stop effective dates; so if we go back to your example of IBM, it would be there with the dates that clearly show the beginning and end of IBM’s ownership. Then, our patent searching platform, now offers you the option to search the current assignee, the original assignee or the entire assignee history.

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