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Our online community for discussing challenges in patent and prior art search, Intellogist, has now been around for a few years. Recently somebody asked me a tricky question regarding patent families, and I soon found myself digging through my personal files. Some of the older stuff I turned up sent me down memory lane, and I figured the blog would be the perfect place to reminisce.
The days when I was first putting Intellogist content together didn’t feel very productive. Mostly they were spent reading and cross referencing the existing literature on patent information sources – of which there was, or so it seemed to me, surprisingly little. This industry is so important, yet its practices are so lightly documented. It might astonish you to know that before I put together the information in the earliest Intellogist glossary articles and reports, I had to perform literally months of research. I was actually quite hard on myself about it, really, because I was sure a perfectly drawn, crystal clear, up-to-date article on the history of patent families and other patent information developments had to be floating out there on the internet, ready for anyone to read.
If that document exists, I haven’t found it yet (so please forward it to me at your earliest opportunity). In this post I’ll share what resources worked for me, and I’ll give some perspective on what it means to be just starting out in this industry.
In an attempt to get the lay of the land, I read product literature. I read user manuals. I read back issues of World Patent Information. I referenced Information Sources in Patents (2nd ed., Adams, 2006) so frequently that my copy is currently dog eared and littered with Post-it flags. I puzzled over sources that were frustratingly vague, and mulled enigmatic phrases for days. I spend hours reading the Patent Information Users Group (PIUG) Discussion list archives from the 90s and absorbing rants about the shortcomings of long-ago products (Corporate Intelligence, anyone?). I learned a ton, down to bizarre detail, and thoroughly exasperated the EPO’s INPADOC help desk staff with constant e-mails. I even got a degree – and yet, most days, I’m haunted by the conviction that I basically know squat. That’s how much there is to know about this industry. It’s more than one person could possibly keep in his (or her) head.
Patent searching is an industry full of long-lived experts. There are names on the PIUG roster that have been there for decades, and they have amassed impressive CVs and lists of published works. It’s easy to get intimidated – I certainly felt that way at my first few annual conferences. I never wanted to ask a question. What if I look like I don’t know anything? (Of course I did ask those questions anyway, because I am an obnoxious conference question asker. Something just comes over me and I’m up at the microphone. Don’t ever let me loose in an exhibit hall, either: they see me coming and run for it.)
But in my experience, the people who do the best searching are the people who ask the most questions, the people who are willing to admit they don’t know something if it means they can learn something new. And with regard to the more experienced searchers in the community, while it’s possible that some of these folks are tirelessly training up a new generation of patent searchers, where does that leave the rest of us? Young searchers can’t allow themselves to be intimidated by the current environment in the profession, or they’ll never grow.
In truth, the world of digital information is changing so rapidly right now that it doesn’t just matter how long you’ve been searching, but how much you are learning. In the years I’ve been working on Intellogist, dozens of patent search products have been introduced or have seen major overhauls. Every single month, important changes to current products occur, as we can see just by perusing the news items on the Intellogist homepage. Staying current is a challenge, but it’s an exciting time to be watching these trends develop.
Nobody can gain decades of experience overnight, it’s true. But young searchers have assets that are just as valuable: the desire to learn, and the drive to research.
What challenges did you encounter when entering the profession? Let us know in the comments!
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.