Is it possible to have too much patent information?

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The products we rely on for patent and prior art searching are adding more and more data every day. Whether it’s expanded country coverage in a system like PatBase (check out our newly updated Intellogist Report!) or the burgeoning journal and non-patent literature collections of Compendex and Inspec—you can’t deny that the sheer amount of information available in digital and searchable form is exploding.

Let me stop right here and give away the ending. It’s NOT possible to have too much patent information…IF you know how to use it correctly.

That’s an important distinction in the technology age. As more and more patent documents, journal articles, and other academic studies become searchable, you need to consider how you’re going to parse, dissect, and organize that information. Before you even start searching, you should also consider your goals. Do you want to find every single possible relevant piece of prior art or just the one perfect reference closest to the bullseye? Different types of searches are suited for different goals, and it’s best to talk these goals over with patent search professionals (such as those at Landon IP).

Read on for some tips and tricks to help pare down your information overload after the jump!

1. Search specific fields
Searching a narrower field with the same keyword query will yield fewer, but more focused results when compared to a broader field query. Consider this example: searching for the terms “docking,” “station,” and “USB” within a patent database in the full text field as opposed to the title or abstract field. Since the title and abstract are part of the full text record, results from searching those fields will be a subset of the full text results. The same principle applies to other subset field such as “first listed inventor” or “office of first filing” where available. Keep in mind that searching a specific field will eliminate many potential hits, especially when the keywords are obscure or particularly technical. Titles and abstracts are almost always more general than the full text when it comes to describing the contents of the document; this can help you if you’re in a pinch for time or want to eliminate extraneous and non-relevant items from your search results. It can also be helpful to do a reference query with full text enabled so that you can see exactly how much you’re missing—even if you don’t intend to review the extra documents.

2. Use post-search filtering
Many search systems these days are incorporating post-search filtering modules to let users “drill down” into their results sets. From long-standing high-end systems to newer systems such as ArchPatent, Cobalt IP, and Boliven, it seems like these post-search filtering features are all the rage, and why shouldn’t they be?

ArchPatent Filtering

Many newer systems will have a filtering module off to one side of the results list, for easy modification of the previous query.

Post-search filtering is a great way to quickly reformat search strings to include additional constraints, once you know a little more about your data set. If documenting the search history is of importance, you may want to check that your patent search system of choice includes these filtering attempts as additional queries.

3. Combine search queries
Combining search queries can either involve composing two separate queries and combining them after the fact, or searching multiple fields at the same time. The ability to do either of these varies by system, but the second option is almost always available via an advanced, fielded, or command line search interface. This is an alternative to the filtering strategy laid out above for cases when the area of focus is clear prior to entering the search. Preemptively combining keywords and classifications is a particularly powerful search strategy to mitigate and navigate through the growing mass of data. Date ranges are another great way to narrow down the documents you need to look at, especially for cases in which you’re only interested in live art (non-expired patents).

These are just a few ways to deal with the ever-growing glut of patent information. In my opinion, it’s always great to have the largest and broadest sources of information possible–it’s up to you as a searcher to utilize the tide of data by learning how to swim.

What are your favorite ways to cope with the expanding scope of patent information? We’d love to hear from you 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 searches, trademark searches, technical translations, and information retrieval services.


4 Responses

  1. I think we just have to face up to the fact that searches are going to keep on getting bigger.

    If you are conducting a watch then you need to be using the same string every time regardless of how many hits you get. To add a restrictor to your string just because there are too many hits compromises the search.

    More broadly, I think that any restriction has to be valid, not just for the sake of looking at smaller numbers. Some of the checks you mention in 1. above are good indicators of the validity.

  2. Absolutely agree. Quality is the number 1 concern and that means not failing to live up to your end of the bargain as a searcher.

  3. Personally, I like noise in patent search results as it allows me to see my hits against a background which I can check out for relevance or candidact for exclusion. But I mostly focus on invalidation so all I need is a small number of very relevant hits. If you are conducting a prefiling search, then lots of hits are needed to really narrow down the novel features of your proposed filing.

    • I agree, Mike. The nature of the search determines how wide of a net you really need. As you noted, it’s nice to be able to contextualize the results of your search, even if you only need a few very relevant hits.

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