Google’s “Prior Art Finder” — What it is and what it isn’t

[tweetmeme source=”Intellogist” only_single=false]

Google announced a major update to their Google Patents search tool yesterday. These changes include two main offerings:

1. The inclusion of EP documents
2. The introduction of the “Prior Art Finder” tool

As of the writing of this blog post, it appears that while EP documents are available within the Google Patents search system (such as this document), they do not come up normally in results lists for search queries. This is the case even when using verbatim title searching or document number searching, and the advanced search form does not include any options for searching EP documents, either. However, this seems like a glitch or gradual roll-out that Google is well known for and not a permanent issue. The inclusion of EP documents is a major boon to those who prefer Google Patents over Espacenet (in the free search tool domain). EP data is but the first step towards making Google Patents a more viable search tool for more than a quick starting point or “silver-bullet” type search.

As for the Prior Art Finder tool: I’ve got a lot to say about how that feature works, what it can do for the professional searcher, and what it means for the future of prior art search after the jump.

Google’s Prior Art Finder tool is accessible from any individual patent document within Google Patents’ system.

Prior Art Finder pros
1. Query generation is automatic – Starting a query with the Prior Art Finder couldn’t be easier. Users need only to click the blue “Find prior art” button at the top of any individual patent document within Google Patents. From there, search terms are automatically mined and generated from the full available text of the document. Accompanying the term generation is an automatic end date for search results that coincides with the extracted filing date from the patent document (putting the “prior” in prior art).

the "Find prior art" button

The “Find prior art” button is located at the top of any individual document page within Google Patents.

2. Federated search through various Google entities is helpful – Users accustomed to running separate strings in Google Scholar and Google Books will be assisted by the fact that both of these valuable search tools will be queried simultaneously through the Prior Art Finder. Switching between results sets is accomplished by selecting the category at the top of the results page, and the pre-loaded entries load instantaneously and conveniently.

3. Post search modification is user-friendly – Automatically generated search terms are clearly displayed (no black-box here!). Along with supplementary generated terms, can be toggled on-and-off with ease and search results will be instantly updated. Additionally, the custom date range fields can similarly be modified.

post search customization

Automatically generated terms can easily be enabled or disabled.

Prior Art Finder cons
1. Results are limited to Google search engines – Prior Art Finder merely searches Google Scholar, Google Patents, Google Books, Google People, and Google Web. It will not search valuable prior art databases that Google does not have the access to index, ruling out a vast majority of the available “non-patent” prior art available to expert searchers. As a result, those seeking a complete professional prior art search will find that Prior Art Finder is merely a first drop in the bucket.


Results can be displayed from each of the Google search systems that are queried.

2. Queries must be generated from a document present in Google Patents’ database – This means if it’s not a US or EP document in Google’s database, you’re out of luck for automatic query generation. There is no currently available easy way to create your own query, but a work-around can be accomplished by using any patent document in the Google system as a starting point, erasing the automatically generated terms, and entering your own. At this point, however, users may be better suited to generate their own queries in each separate Google search product. At the same time, it would be nice to have the interface of Prior Art Finder and the functionality of the federated nature of the tool available for brand new queries.

changing terms

An automatically generated query for a yarn measuring patent can be radically changed by the user to search for vertebrae prosthesis technology.

3. Automatic query generation and results are hit-and-miss – Testing on a patent for a “Thread-measuring feeding device” came up with results for yarn properties, blood regulation, human motion analysis, fly fishing, and computer threading (and this was just in the “Top 10”). At this stage, Prior Art Finder is far from a panacea for those looking for the next evolution in automated prior art search. It just goes to show that the “neck-top computer” still can’t be beat when it comes to complex and semantic heavy problems such as patent and prior art searching.


An example of a false positive turned up in the “Top 10” results.

One further note: the Google Research blog post about this update leads me to believe that many further updates may be coming to Google Patents. One can only hope that the sleeping giant in the search field has been awakened to the possibilities and growing necessity of providing patent search tools!

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.


6 Responses

  1. […] on the Intellogist Blog, we’ve focused on major updates to large patent search tools, such as Google Patents and TotalPatent.  Today I’ll take a step back from the big players and highlight some […]

  2. I for one am very pleased with this tool. I think most of us understand it is not a replacement for a proper search from a trained searcher but there are many times during the day I need to do a very quick search for a client without charge and this is sometimes enough to give us a “go” or “no go” decision. Very useful indeed.

  3. […] have the option to select “Overview” (full record), “Related” (link to Prior Art Finder tool), or “Discuss” (link to the “Ask Patents” website). Finally, EP patent […]

  4. […] Art Finder on Google Patents – A blog post from August 2012 describes the new Prior Art Finder tool available on Google Patents, which can be used to locate […]

  5. […] Google’s “Prior Art Finder” — What it is and what it isn’t – Chris Jagalla explains the uses and limitations of the “Prior Art Finder” tool that was […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: