In the past two months, Google has made strides in increasing the accessibility of legal information. In November, Google introduced Google Scholar, which ranks and returns legal opinions and publications in response to a search. While much of this information was already freely available on sites such as Findlaw or FastCase (a service provided through my bar that some think may be fleeting), I often found the search functions lacking. And while you can’t shepardize/keycite with Google Scholar, people who are using free alternatives to Lexis and Westlaw never had that functionality anyway.
A few weeks ago, the search giant released Google Patents. I’ve already found this helpful in my practice. Before this search engine, a simple Google search of a client’s invention might show me if there were any similar products available on the market. But only a tiny percentage of patents are ever realized in commerce, so this was only really good for an extremely high-level vetting. Then came a basic PTO search, then a thorough PTO search, and then possibly an outside search-firm search. Now, I can search PTO records with greater (albeit still limited) detail on this first-pass look. Google won’t ever replace my own searches of the PTO records, but it will help in this respect.
The greatest benefit I see in Google Patents is in being able to point inventors to it. They can save time and money by checking, on their own, if their idea has been developed. I’ve already told one inventor about the tool. Being able to refer a potential client to Google Patents might mean I miss out on a search fee, but a client who appreciates saving that fee is worth far more.