Important traits for Patent Searchers

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When I introduce myself to people and mention my job as a patent professional, it almost always raises an eyebrow. They have good reason to be curious; it’s not a job that people learn about while growing up such as teacher, firefighter, or astronaut. A lot of people ask similar questions: “What’s a patent? I have an idea, how do I patent it? What do you actually do every day?” Another question that frequently comes up is “Why did you decide to become a patent searcher?” Answering this question is a little difficult, because up until I interviewed with Landon IP, I had no knowledge of what being a patent searcher was all about. I had a mechanical engineering background, so what could patents do for me? I learned quickly that a lot of the traits of my personality were a natural fit for transitioning into the world of patents and being a patent searcher specifically. Read on as I describe a short list of traits that patent searchers need to possess (and work on!).

Determination – I can recall many searches where I didn’t think there was anything to be found after a few hours of looking. Every strategy and source turned up a dead end. If you’re determined, you can break through this wall and find results. It can be easy to give up, but it’s important to have alternative and special case plans that you can turn to when things aren’t going well. These tricks can vary from niche sources to simply changing up your routine.

Judgment – On the other hand, it’s important to be able to honestly assess the state of a search at any point in time and report updates on its progress. After a certain amount of experience, it becomes easier to extrapolate the results you’ve seen to a certain point and know how long it will take to achieve the next step–be that expanding the net for more results or rounding up the ones you have for evaluation. A certain 6th sense of “where I should be” on any given search is a nice perk of experience!

Eye for Detail – Patents are a detail oriented game, as patent lawyers out there can especially attest to. Word choices matter. Dates matter. Formatting of reports matter. Organizing results matter. You need to be able to get all the little things right as a patent searcher so that your overall methodology can be trusted.

Creativity – It would be nice if the perfect prior art reference appeared an hour into your search. If that happened every time (or was easy), you wouldn’t be getting paid quite as much, right? “Thinking outside the box” is a tired business cliche, but it exists for a reason. Those who can evaluate the problem in front of them from an outside and creative position can break free of the ruts that they normally stick to. Think about analogous art–it takes creativity to make those analogies!

Logic – A lot of times, finding good prior art turns into an elaborate logic puzzle. Which piece of prior art matches to which part of the subject of the search (be it an existing patent or an invention disclosure)? Is there a way to group the limitations of the subject to narrow down the inventive concepts and search those separately? Being able to sort through many IF THEN statements in my head has been very helpful to me.

These are just a few of the traits that good patent searchers share. Can you think of a few more? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Patent Searches from Landon IP

This post was contributed by Intellogist Team member Chris Jagalla. 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.


10 Responses

  1. Crazy – the good ones are always just a little bit different to other people. It’s the “black art” side of things. Being a little crazy probably helps with the determination and creativity aspects.

    I agree it’s almost a universal “huh?” and sometimes giving an explanation doesn’t help. I myself had absolutely no idea about patents before I applied to be an examiner. I fell into my now 15 year career by accident but like you it seems to fit me.

    • Wait, who are you calling crazy? :)

      Speaking to your second point, I think that it’s definitely worth it to go with the flow and take on new opportunities.

  2. Why is a science degree a requirement I’ve always wondered.
    I have enough science background to sit for the patent bar but I’ve been told not to bother since even if I am admitted to the patent bar, without a BS I won’t be looked at twice by anyone having anything to do with patent law.

    • Hard science degrees are required because patent searching can come down to understanding the technology at work and being able to search the concept and not just the (often ambiguous) terms listed. In some arts this isn’t often necessary, but in others it’s quite necessary.

      To register to be a patent agent you need to have passed the Patent Bar, and to register to take the Patent Bar you need to have a technical degree. As cited in the requirements:

      “(ii) Possesses the legal, scientific, and technical qualifications necessary for him or her to render applicants valuable service”

      I believe this provision shapes the baseline for the whole industry.

      • Actually that’s only Category A admission to the Patent Bar. You don’t need a degree to take the patent bar if you are applying under Category B or Category C. I, for example, have the biology and chemistry requirements to sit under Category B, but do not have a BS. I have a BA in History, but originally I thought I was going to be a vet so I took lots of biology and chemistry. Nevertheless, nobody will bother to look at my actual ability without the degree.

  3. Obsessive-compulsive and stubborn. I guess that is normally called “Determination”. I also have found a good memory to be important. If you can remember seeing a relevant piece of art the first time, it makes it easier to find it the second time.

  4. Good patent searchers are people who like to solve puzzles and are good at recognizing patterns. You need to be able recognize elements of the invention you’re searching for even when the document you’ve retrieved draws them upside down and backward or lists them as alternatives in a Markush group.

    • Edlyn,

      I agree! I’m honored to have you contribute in the comments section of the Intellogist Blog, since I’m a fan of your work (and we’ve cited some of your studies on Intellogist itself).

      I wonder if patent searchers happen to engage in logic or word puzzles more than average. I love a good crossword and I bet my peers do as well.

  5. Vincent, (unfortunately I can’t reply to a reply using this comment system)

    You’re right regarding the qualifications issue. My intent was to give a guess as to why that expectation seems ingrained into the industry. I do think there needs to be more flexible thinking in opportunities for people like yourself (obviously very analytical).

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