5 Features to Always Look for on Search System and Database Websites

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Professional patent searchers utilize  many different types of search resources, including both free and subscription patent and non-patent literature databases.  These databases may be accessible through a search platform built specifically for that dataset, or the database may be accessible on a larger subscription-based platform that hosts numerous databases (like EBSCOhost, Dialog, STN, etc).  It can be difficult to decide which databases or search platforms to utilize (and subscribe to), but a good database or search system website should provide you with the information you need to make your decision, all without spending a dime.  I often need to look at database and search system websites when compiling updates for the System Reports and Community Reports on Intellogist, so I’ve seen my fair share of both excellent and not-so-stellar search system websites.  There are five features I always look for on a database or search system website that provide me with the coverage, updates, features, and pricing information that I need to write a detailed report on the product.

After the jump, learn the five main features to look for on a search system website that can help you decide whether this system or database is relevant to your user needs!

1. Coverage Information

For prior art searchers, it’s vital to know what type of information is covered in the database and what the date range is.  Most patent databases offer some type of coverage chart that details the available country coverage, document types available, date ranges available, the completeness of the record (bibliographic or full-text), the availability of images, and the translation options. Unfortunately, although these coverage charts are often available at an unrestricted URL, they are not easy to locate directly from the search system website (if you are not signed in).  For example, PatBase offers a detailed coverage chart that is updated weekly, but a link to the chart is only given once the user has logged in to the PatBase system.  Non-registered users can still locate links to this coverage chart on the PatBase system report (and some coverage information is also listed on the PatBase section of the Minesoft website), but it would be more useful for potential users if the coverage chart was linked directly from the site homepage.

Many larger search platforms that host multiple databases offer detailed information sheets on each database, such as the STN summary sheets or the Dialog Bluesheets.  These sheets will list the date coverage, subject coverage, file type, file features, record content, frequency of updates, language, information on the database producer, available fields, and any other relevant information about the use of the database through the search platform.

2. User guide

The user guide is the ultimate treasure trove of information on a search system, and I appreciate the transparency of a  search platform when the user guide is released openly on the public version of the website.  I can understand that database vendors and search system producers may not want to reveal in detail all unique features of their product, to prevent copy-cat features by competitors.  If a search system has particularly desirable search and analysis features, though, what better way to convey the feature than a clear description of the tool in a step-by-step format?  For example, ChemAxon provides a number of detailed user guides on its website to help searchers learn how to utilize the complex chemical search tools on JChem.  The user-guide may also be provided in conjunction with a free trial so that the user can test the features for themselves.

3. Free Trial

You always want to test-drive a car before you buy it, so wouldn’t the same be true for a subscription search system?  Free trials allow the user to test the limitations and unique features of a search system before signing a contract or spending any money.  For example, users can request a sample patent file history and download the Patent Workbench® Reader software for free to test the search, viewing, annotation, and analysis capabilities of the platform (it should be noted that this tool includes numerous search capabilities but should mainly be classified as a productivity tool for reviewing patent file histories).  The user guide is also included with the free download of the Patent Workbench® Reader, since access to the guide is necessary while the user learns how to utilize the product.

4. Tutorials and Webinars

Besides a free trial, tutorials and webinars are probably the best ways for a prospective user to learn about the features of a search system.  As described in a previous blog post, both live and recorded training materials are available on the STN and Dialog websites.  Prospective users can learn about the available search tools accessible through the platform while watching a webinar, while current subscribers can learn targeted techniques for certain types of searches.

5. List of Latest Updates

Database users can view the latest features added to a search platform or learn about new content added to the coverage of a database by monitoring the news sections of database websites.  For example, on the PatBase homepage under the log-in form, users can download a PDF listing the most recent enhancements to the system.

Access the latest PatBase news by selecting the link “PatBase enhancements March 2012.”

Conclusion

Unfortunately, all of these features sometimes aren’t displayed prominently on the database or search system website.  You often have to dig around through labyrinthine menus to access coverage information or links to tutorials, and some systems only provide user guides and coverage information to registered users (this is when a free trial can come in very handy).  Luckily, Intellogist will also be there with the latest database updates and coverage information for both patent and non-patent literature search systems.  You can also utilize Intellogist Consulting Services, which will help you identify which databases are relevant to your organization’s needs. We can help users compile, compare, and detail which systems would be best for their companies.  To learn more about Intellogist Consulting Services, visit us here.

What features on a database or search system website do you find most useful? Let us know in the comments!

Patent Information from Landon IP

This post was contributed by Joelle Mornini. 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.

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