Search Patents & Opinions with Google
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.
Some excellent comments and insights. Thank you. I have forwarded this page to several colleagues. I would think that all these developments (e.g., Google Patents, Google Scholar, etc.) you cite would lead to more informed decision-making by inventors, shorter learning curves and presumably lower costs as a result. But according to the authoritative citations and commentaries I read at http://www.inventorinsights.com/Patent_Office_Problems.html the USPTO’s system is antiquated and the backlog is so large that it seems to cancel out these innovations — not to mention seemingly contradict the efforts to stimulate the economy. What do you think?
Alyster Stephens Brown
Alyster – Indeed, at least in theory, one would hope that the increased availability of information at the inventor’s fingertips would lead to economic efficiencies in the patenting process. And you’re right, too, that the PTO’s system is severely overburdened with its huge backlog and dated technology. The budget problems that face the nation have not missed the PTO either. Whether the efficiencies cancel out the PTO’s problems, though, I can’t say.
I do believe that more information for inventors is better, and as far as services such as Google Patents, we are better off with than without. Inventors who avail themselves of these resources will now be better informed than they once could have been. This isn’t to say that they should always supplant a patent attorney’s advice with a visit to Google, but at least Google will make them more aware of what is out there. An inventor’s own search should be used for that reason; while an inventor may otherwise decide not to pursue patenting an invention based on a quick Google search that returned similar results, a patent attorney might be able to pick out important differences between the invention and the prior art that render the invention patentable.
I just talked with a colleague of mine regarding the ethics of performing a search on Google, or rather, the ethics of advising a client to do a preliminary search on Google. I’ll have to consider his argument. Until then, I’m going to abstain from advising clients to seek answers online.
Chiefly, the point is that no electronic search can replace an expert search done by a real person, especially without knowledge of Google’s ranking algorithm.