Google opens prior-art patent search to the entire web

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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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