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Summary:

In yet another move to simplify the process of patent search, Google is now tackling the particularly tough problem of prior with a new feature. But all this innovation begs the question of whether Google, not the USPTO, should become the de facto patent search engine.

Google has made its Google Patents tool markedly more useful by tuning it to be even better at identifying potential infringements. Specifically, the company announced on Tuesday, Google Patents now undertakes the tricky task of spotting prior art by analyzing key phrases in individual patents across Google’s collections of book, scholarly research, patents and, indeed, web databases.

A capability like this has been a long time coming considering the problems that exist in searching for patents — especially prior art. Priort art is generally defined as “all information that has been disclosed to the public in any form about an invention before a given date.” For practitioners, however, the definition might as well read “nearly impossible to search for given the ever-growing volumes of published material.”

With that in mind, here’s what Google claims it can do in a blog post explaining the new feature:

With a single click, it searches multiple sources for related content that existed at the time the patent was filed. …

The Prior Art Finder identifies key phrases from the text of the patent, combines them into a search query, and displays relevant results from Google Patents, Google Scholar, Google Books, and the rest of the web.

Additionally, Google blog post author Jon Orwant notes, Google Patents also can translate searches across numerous languages to make it easier to search for similar patents in European countries as well as the United States.

In March, I explained the problems with patent search — especially through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office — and identified a handful of big data techniques that might be able to help simplify it. What’s interesting, however, is that the USPTO seems to be offloading some of the responsibility for improving the process to Google by helping load its Patents system with the agency’s data.

That presents a curious dilemma for both the USPTO and the patent bar: Google Patents could be highly valuable as a free service using the cutting edge in search techniques to discover patents, but relying on a commercial entity knee deep in patent feuds across a broad range of technologies does open itself to discussions of whether Google’s interests might ultimately influence its results.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user alexskopje.

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  1. Now why would they possibly want to do that?

    1. @google @GoogleAtWork How ‘prior art’ becomes ‘state of art’ http://bit.ly/fhVt8E with “help from a friend” @uspto

  2. Useful in principle, but technically an as yet another buggy, unreliable Google product.

  3. The USPTO gives access to their database to many different entities. While the USPTO gives a rudimentary search experience, lots of other parties offer more powerful search functions.

    IBM used to offer a patent search site that has since been spun off and later acquired by Thomson (now provided as Thomson Innovation and Delphion).

    Derwent has been offering value added search functionality for years.

    Google is simply offering a new feature, and apparently doing so for free. I don’t know that it’s much of a dilemma. The USPTO simply provides access to their data, and Google offers an enhanced level of search. If people become reliant on it, the pay for access providers will offer similar services. In the context of finding prior art to invalidate a patent, paying for access to a database is a rounding error on the litigation bills.

  4. Wow! I had no idea Google Patents even existed. What an idea!

    Now that it’s there, it makes so much sense that Google would undertake this task.

    I wonder if they intend on doing the same thing with trade marks. Probably wouldn’t be as difficult.

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