Selecting the right tool for the job is clearly a good thing. Some of the more important aspects IP practitioners, information specialists and other decision makers should consider when shopping around for a patent research solution may take into account various features—including functionality, usability, accessibility, design and more.

Because the types of searches a user sometimes has to perform (Patentability/Novelty, Clearance/Freedom-to-Operate, Validity, State-of-the-Art and others) differs, a patent research tool—especially the content (both text and images) contained within it—needs to be “fit for purpose.”  Whether you’re performing a search as part of a research program, as input for a potential licensing strategy or in connection with any due diligence, missing, delayed or inaccurate content can have disastrous consequences. Here are 6 things to look out for:

1: Where possible, users should look for databases that offer broader bibliographic data coverage than DOCDB. The quality and language of bibliographic patent data varies by issuing agency. Even DOCDB, the master documentation database of the EPO, which includes bibliographic data as well as abstracts, citations and the DOCDB simple patent family data from as far in the past as the 1800s from over 90 countries worldwide, does not include images or full text. And, keep in mind that DOCDB represents fewer than half of the 190 WIPO Member States.

2: Ensure that all dates are normalized to a common format and support search and retrieval by year only, as well as combinations of month, day and year. Any inconsistencies in application and/or priority date (and number) formats will lead to incorrect patent families.  It is important that patent researchers know which date format is being utilized by their database and whether any punctuation (periods, spaces, dashes, commas or slashes) is required.

3: Look for databases where all numbers are standardized and offer flexible number search functionality. Publication, Application and Priority Number formats vary widely, containing a mixture of Country Codes, Serial Numbers (separated by a slash) and Kind Codes. They can also vary in length, sometimes being padded with extra zeros, making it unclear to users whether the number they are searching for is a publication, application or priority number.  Patent research tools that allow users to enter any numbers, regardless of type and format, are very useful.

4: Ensure that at least the Original Assignee/Applicant names have been normalized, that the rules are clearly understood and ideally that the Current Assignee is also available to search and display. Correcting typographical errors, removing punctuation and stripping away the legal entities from the data elements found on the first page of the patent document is one way that patent data providers begin to normalize Assignee/Applicant names. Additionally, grouping organizations together allow searches or analyses of any Assignee to be easily located regardless of publication name stemming from regional differences in incorporation.

5:  Ensure that you are able to “truncate” IPC and CPC codes so as to retrieve all records in a specific or broad technological category. The IPC follows a strictly hierarchical system, making it simpler in which to find related technologies, while the CPC is bigger and more complex.  Being able to search classes at the highest levels, (Section and Class), as well as more granularly (Subclass, Group and Subgroup) is important in being able to uncover the most records. Does your research tool have the ability to “truncate” IPC and CPC codes in order to deliver all records in a specific or broad technological category?

6:  Look for databases where the Title and Abstract fields are translated either by humans or by good-quality machine translation.  As an alternative, users should seek out databases that use equivalent family members in order to search in their preferred language.  Most patent authorities publish records in a single language only.  This presents searchers with the challenge of how to find documents not published in the user’s preferred language.

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