Patent research can sometimes feel like an endurance sport. Executing thorough and diligent searches requires tenacity, attention to detail, and long periods of intensely focused analysis and repeated decision making. So how can we make life a little easier?
Choose Tools With Productivity and Workflow in Mind
When we choose our patent research tools, we can do so with the intent of optimizing productivity and workflow in addition to seeking excellent search and analysis functionality, data coverage and data quality.
Optimizing productivity can be improved by focusing on three main factors:
Integrated access to multiple tools or databases can be convenient and timesaving.
The specific benefits will depend on the actual tools and vendors, but may include:
- Simplified login to multiple tools
- Unified search syntax or searching conventions
- Ability to use search results from one database as the basis for a search in another database.
When exploring your options, you may find it useful to ask the following questions:
- Other than patent data, what other resources and types of information will you (and your users) typically use?
- Who are the primary target markets for the patent information platform? What concerns do these markets have, and do you share them?
- What other tools and resources does the vendor offer, and do they address complementary information needs? How well integrated are the tools with each other?
Workflow features have become increasingly important in patent research platforms. Many products, including LexisNexis® TotalPatent®, offer options for sharing and obtaining feedback on result sets, as well as methods to facilitate the creation of deliverables such as reports and data exports.
When choosing a patent research platform, consider the following questions:
- What is your current patent research workflow?
- How do you communicate your findings with your colleagues and clients? What are their preferences?
- What kind of workflows does the tool accommodate?
- What kind of output formats does the tool provide?
- Does the platform provide workflow options that integrate well with your existing workflow? Does it require changes to your workflow? Can it simplify your workflow? Is it compatible?
Sometimes a tool will require changes in behavior. Will the changes enhance the sharing and use of information? Will the changes eliminate an existing problem? Could they create new ones? Will they require new habits? Can the vendor help you implement workflows that maximize the benefits of the platform while minimizing disruption?
Last, but often not least, user interface issues can have a significant effect on productivity when using a patent research platform.
Patent information is complex and highly structured. Platforms typically aggregate data from multiple sources, in multiple languages, and often have to contend with varying degrees of quality control from the original data providers. In order to sift through the data, expert searchers require access to powerful, flexible and highly customizable search options. All of these requirements can make it difficult to build a user interface that balances convenient access to platform features while also providing simplified usability.
In my experience, user interface problems are an important (but not always obvious) source of stress and error. Even if there are compelling reasons to go with a particular patent research tool, strong negative reactions to a user interface may make adoption of a tool difficult.
When evaluating user experiences with a patent research platform, you may find that users find it difficult to articulate why they like or dislike a user interface.
Here are a few questions that can help you gain insight into user reports when evaluating a patent research platform.
- What parts of the tool do the users like?
- What parts do they find frustrating?
- Do users have trouble locating specific features of a screen? Is there a consistent pattern to any errors or frustrations experienced?
- Are there unfamiliar interface features? Will training or documentation help?
- What other tools have users used? User interface conventions from other systems can sometimes lead to errors or frustrations with unfamiliar systems.
While it may be difficult to choose a patent research platform that will satisfy the needs and preferences of all users, consulting users about their responses to platforms will go a long way toward building consensus about the “best fit” for your organization.