Prior to the release of LexPat, the patent searching community had largely depended upon bibliographic collections or abstract and indexing (A&I) databases.  However welcome these databases were, they had some drawbacks.  They were limited in scope (not all technologies were equally represented), coverage varied and it simply wasn’t possible to search the Descriptions or more importantly the Claims.  Prior to the availability of searchable full-text databases, the searcher had to read the full-text either as a PDF or in many cases, as a hard copy.  Indeed, my introduction to the world of patent information came through my involvement in the British Library’s Patent Express document delivery service, which delivered literally millions of pages of hard copy patent documents to customers all over the world; a service that declined as more full-text databases, some with searchable PDFs, emerged.

In his 2-part article, published in the Elsevier journal World Patent Information, Volume 32, Issue 1, March 2010, Pages 22–29 Part 1 – “The text, the full-text and nothing but the text – Standards for creating textual information in patent documents and general search implications”, and Volume 32, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 120–128,  Part 2 –  “The main specification, searching challenges and survey of availability”, Stephen Adams points to 5 reasons why full-text has become popular amongst a particular demographic:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Cost-efficiency
  3. Reduction in indexing errors
  4. Comprehensive retrieval
  5. Fewer skills to maintain

Stephen also argues that there are corresponding disadvantages:

  1. Lack of discrimination
  2. Information overload
  3. Poor precision
  4. Pressure at the point of search

With the release of more and more full-text patent databases, users can now decide which elements to search.  Often an initial search will be confined to, say the Title, Abstract and Claims but as full-text becomes increasingly widespread and sophisticated, users now have the means of restricting their search to the first Claim or, only the independent Claims.  And as advances in machine translations occur, searchers can and do search full-text databases published in numerous languages in their language of choice.

It’s taken over 30 years for us to reach the point where we take full-text patent databases for granted but remember that it’s only been the last 15 years where the growth has occurred.  Also remember that while today we can enjoy searching the full-text of over 30 authorities, WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty has 150 Contracting States.  The full-text for Latin American countries, though improving, ASEAN, Middle East and African patent authorities is still largely absent.

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