The Secret to Understanding Special Indexing in Derwent World Patents Index

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The other day I was conducting a quick-and-dirty search in Thomson Innovation, and I started paying attention to the Derwent Manual Codes listed on my patent hits.  Normally, when you hover your mouse over a classification code in Innovation, a short heading for the class will pop up to give you an idea of what subject matter the class code pertains to.  That didn’t happen for these Manual Codes, and I started wishing for an easy-access DWPI class schedule.   Then, when cruising around the Thomson Reuters site, I found a huge resource that I had never been aware of before:  the DWPI Manual Code Lookup page.  I realized there was an entire page of supplemental reference tools for DWPI that I had never been aware of before – including a lookup tool for Derwent Patent Assignee Codes!

Here’s a little background.  For a brief period in information science history, before full text collections were possible, the industry relied on the creation of heavily indexed abstract collections.  In the patent world, one major example was the Derwent World Patents Index (DWPI).  This file was created decades ago, when the idea of an electronic full text patent collection seemed outlandish.  It was a hugely helpful service then because it provided  titles and abstracts (re-written for clarity), one per patent family.  To further aid retrieval, time-consuming manual indexing was used to signify the content of the patent family, adding even more depth than a title and abstract alone could provide.  This indexing includes the addition of  company-generated classification codes (“Manual Codes”), standardized patent assignee codes, standardized keyword terms, and complex, intricate chemical fragmentation codes and polymer codes.

If you’re like me, you’re constantly fascinated by the mysteries of heavily indexed files such as the DWPI. And I wouldn’t necessarily say “fascinated” in a good way.  This file is hard to use!  The indexing is there, but most people aren’t that knowledgeable about it or adept at using it.  Searching using the chemical and polymer indexing, for example, would probably require days of training to get comfortable, and years of experience to get down pat (and an expensive separate subscription is required, by the way).

But just because it’s hard to use doesn’t mean we should give up, as years of careful human indexing can still make the file an incredibly valuable search aid – if used skillfully! The trick is learning its many secrets.

Before I stumbled across the reference tools page, I’ve worked with what could be considered the current “bible” of DWPI secrets, a document called Global Patent Sources published in 2007.  Representatives for Thomson Reuters say that the document is currently under review to determine how it can be updated, but we may not see the result of those labors for a while.  As I discovered, the good news is that several free, public resources for working with the DWPI are now available right on the Thomson Reuters website, on their reference tools page.

As I mentioned earlier, certain parts of the Derwent indexing (specifically, the chemistry parts, including chemistry-related Manual Codes) are only available to those who subscribe to them via a separate, and pricey, subscription.  However, for engineering and mechanical topics, the Manual Codes and their definitions are freely available.

How do you make Derwent special indexing work for you?  Let us know in the comments!

Patent Analysis from Landon IP

This post was contributed by Landon IP Librarian 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.

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