Friday, February 23, 2007

Google's Patent Search [International]

The US Patent and Trademark Office had better watch out. There's a new patent search engine in town.

In December, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. debuted its newest search tool, Google Patent. The new engine unleashed a frenzy of patent searches across the Internet, as Internet surfers looked up everything from sex toys to bongs. Bloggers unearthed celebrity inventions like rocker Eddie Van Halen's patent on a guitar support and actress Jamie Lee Curtis's creation of a diaper with a side pocket for wipes.
Intellectual property lawyers were less excited. For professionals, Google Patent is just another entry in the already-crowded field. The PTO, Lexis-Nexis Group, West Publishing Corp. and several other companies all offer patent search engines. "Everyone had the same reaction," says Fish & Richardson patent prosecutor Scott Harris. "It's nothing new, just one more way to get the same information."
Patents are in the public domain, meaning they're free for anyone to read, search and republish. All Google did was give the patent library a face lift, with a cleaner, more accessible interface. Results come faster: While the PTO's search engine takes a couple of seconds, Google's is practically instantaneous. Generally, Google Patent also reports more results. A search for "flying machine," the Wright brothers' famous 1906 patent on the airplane, got 95 hits on the PTO site and 787 on Google.
But more hits don't mean more patents. Google's database includes approximately 7 million patents from the 1790s through the middle of 2006. That lag is a problem for patent lawyers, who depend on completely current information.
"[Google Patent's] value to lawyers will be dependent upon Google's ability to stay up-to-date with the actions of the Patent and Trademark Office," says Kaye Scholer's Jason Hoffman, an associate in the firm's patent litigation practice.
Even if Google's database is not totally current, IP litigators might find a good use for Google Patent in infringement cases. All 7 million patents are stored on Google servers, so the company clearly knows about them. That could be a courtroom danger, opening up the company to claims of willful infringement if Google itself faces any patent litigation, say patent lawyers. Maybe Google should stick to its own patents.

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