About Chemical Innovation - Subscription Information
November 2000
Vol. 30, No. 54 – 55.
Touring the Net

Table of Contents

A patent miner’s story

Not long ago, searching patent databases was a specialized skill reserved for librarians and information specialists. Now, an Internet connection and a browser are your ticket to smart, inexpensive solutions to knowing what your competitors are doing. Patent mining is a weekly, if not daily, occurrence for many scientists. Traditionally, patents have been used for documenting and protecting a corporation’s discoveries and innovations. Today, searching patent databases can be used for tracking the state of the art, determining whether a technology is evolutionary or revolutionary, identifying potential technology for licensing, and keeping your business on target.

With the advent of online patent databases, researchers have access to entire patent libraries, research disclosures, foreign and domestic patent applications with their translations, and many other benefits unheard of five years ago. The emergence of gene-based technology will undoubtedly further catalyze interest in using online patent databases.

Tracking innovation

A few years ago, researchers, attorneys, librarians, and other information specialists used patent databases such as Derwent (1) and MicroPatent (2) heavily. In-house patent experts were available to design custom searches. Traditionally, scientists maintained current awareness by reading and subscribing to various journals and literature or circulating the weekly abstracts of patents related to specific technologies. Under this practice, the corporate library became the depository for patents, and they were catalogued much like books. Similar scenarios were played out in government and academia.

Today, patent searching is easier with the aid of the Internet. Most searchers start at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Web site (3). Its databases can be accessed free, and viewed in the full text or by bibliographic information. The databases date from January 1, 1976, to the most recent weekly issue. They can be searched by Boolean text, which searches by terms and fields within a specific date range, by patent number, or by typing the search requirements. Some of the best features include the front-page information search engine of the bibliographic database, full-page images of the full-text database, the list of withdrawn patent numbers, and full-page images of changes to patent documents contained in Certificates of Correction and Re-examinations.

Another excellent source for patent mining is the Delphion Intellectual Property Network (IPN) sponsored by IBM (4). The site allows you to search the bibliographic and claims portions of U.S. patents from 1974 to the present. The bibliographic portion includes title, abstract, inventors, and company. The patent images, including figures, can be viewed for free, but they are not presented in an easily printable or readable form. You can get a hard copy of the original patent for a fee. The databases can be searched by keyword, phrase, or Boolean text, which includes patent numbers, title abstracts, assignees, inventors, attorneys, and agents.

The IPN databases contain full domestic and foreign patents. They include links to

  • the full abstracts of the Japan Patent Information Organization (JAPIO) from October 1976 to the present (updated monthly);
  • the World Intellectual Property Office’s (WIPO) Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) publications from 1990 to the present (updated weekly), which are abstracts and full-document images from more than 100 member countries, including the United States; and
  • the European Patent Office’s International Patent Documentation Center (INPADOC), one of the most comprehensive patent collections in the world, which is updated weekly. The INPADOC contains patent family documents and legal status information from 65 and 22 patent offices, respectively.

Manning and Napier Information Services’ PatentMiner (5) allows free searching of patent bibliographic information and provides PDF images (no figures) of U.S. patents issued since 1970. You can get printed PDF images of the actual patent, including figures, for a fee.

Beyond novice searching

For those wishing to do more comprehensive searches, there is the Franklin Pierce Law Center Intellectual Property Mall, which is hosted by Jon R. Cavicchi’s Patent Searching Academy (6). This internationally acclaimed Web site links to a unique collection of intellectual property resources. It is intended to offer “one-stop shopping” for intellectual property professionals in academia, business, and science, as well as for inventors and entrepreneurs. This site has many interesting links, such as patent-searching pages, Web tutorials, patent listservs, newsgroups, e-mail newsletters, and online patent and trademark depository libraries.

Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) has long been the preferred patent search tool for those in academia (7). CAS offers free searching of full-text U.S. patent documents from 1971 to present and limited access to some foreign abstracts. The database includes many Java-rotatable 3-D chemical structures, CAS Registry numbers, and CAS index terms. For a nominal fee, CAS offers hard copies or microfiche of the full text of patents. CAS also monitors literature from 8000 journals, abstracts, and indexes from 30 countries and 2 international patent organizations. The patents are translated into English from 50 languages. A sampling of the databases of the CAS network includes CAS Registry, CASelects, ChemPort, MedLine, SciFinder, and STN.

The best of the rest

“When I see Japanese in the abstract, I give up,” commented one attendee at the recent ACS national meeting in Washington, DC. Luckily for him and others like him, Paterra’s Instant MT Internet Service offers “English” access to all of the patent databases of JAPIO from 1996 to the present (8). The service includes interactive glossaries of 270,000 terms and side-by-side comparisons of Japanese and English versions of patents in a two-column PDF form. The Paterra documents cost $39 per page and are less expensive than similar services.

Another site that offers patents translated from almost any language is the Technical Translation Agency (9). The site also provides corrections to texts, attestations for translations (and Certification of Translation for patent attorneys), and specialists ready to serve you either online or by phone. You can also obtain online price quotes for its services.

For those interested in discussing patent law issues, an e-subscription to the PATENT-L listserv (10), maintained by the Organization of Regulatory Administrators of Continuing Legal Education, may be useful. The listserv is aimed at patent attorneys, patent agents, businesspersons, and academics. Discussion topics include legal issues related to patent prosecution, licensing, and enforcement. PATENT-L also is a forum for exchanging information about matters of concern to patent counsel and agents, such as the services of patent search firms and other resources relating to legal developments.

Impact of the human genome project

Gene patents have been in the media spotlight since March 14, 2000, when President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared their support for keeping raw gene sequences in the public domain. Although the announcement didn’t say anything new (because academics are already making the sequence available), somehow the media and the stock market interpreted the statements of Clinton and Blair to mean that punitive action would be taken against companies with patents that would theoretically limit access. Consequently, stock in companies such as Celera plummeted.

“Gene patent ownership is a huge issue,” was the constant message at the BIO 2000 meeting in Boston. Several detailed discussions are available online (11, 12). In my opinion, there are far too many commercial possibilities to put the gene patenting process on hold until the ethicists and attorneys resolve every last unintended consequence. Everybody seems to agree that where genomic patents are concerned, the courts will most likely determine the winners and losers. Furthermore, why have the invested parties made such distinctions between genes and complex chemicals anyway? Just as in chemistry, it is the derived technology that’s patentable. Anyway, in a matter of months, the international repository of genetic data known as Genbank will make all 3 billion base pairs of the human genome available on the Internet. I will stop here on the human genome topic because I’m planning a detailed discussion in an upcoming Viewpoint article in Chemical Innovation.

Biotech patents and more

For those interested in obtaining patent information on biotechnology, the Web site of Foley & Lardner is a good resource (13). At its Publications and Resource Center, Foley & Lardner provides online searching for biotechnological patents and printed publications. It also directs the searcher to the larger and more relevant sources and databases on the World Wide Web. And, the service is free.

Patentec (14), an international organization, is a full- service firm specializing in advanced technologies such as electronic circuitry, artificial intelligence, robotics, and biotechnology. Novelty, validity, infringement, and collection searches are performed using the resources available at the USPTO and the latest online databases.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also houses a database at the Biotechnology Information Center (BIC) of the Agricultural Biotechnology Patents and New Technologies division (15). BIC is 1 of 10 information centers at the USDA National Agricultural Library that provides full-text copies for biotechnology patents.


  1. www.derwent.com
  2. www.micropatent.com
  3. www.uspto.gov
  4. http://www.delphion.com/
  5. www.patentminer.com
  6. www.ipmall.fplc.edu/
  7. www.cas.org
  8. www.paterra.com
  9. www.translation.at
  10. www.listserv@ftplaw.wuacc.edu
  11. www.biospace.com/
  12. http://www.redherring.com/Home/blog/
  13. www.foleylardner.com/home.html
  14. www.patentec.com
  15. http://riley.nal.usda.gov

Marc C. Fitzgerald is assistant editor of Chemical Innovation.


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