Well, for simple searches regarding a known patent number, inventor, assignee, head title, etc. there are already a couple of easy-to-use Internet sources provided by national and international patent authorities. For example, esp@cenet (EPODOC), DEPATISnet and the USPTO databases.
Another promising source for basic searches – especially in the context of drug development – is DrugPatentWatch. But this one – as the ones following now – unfortunately is not for free.
For more complex information research, like comprehensive FTO, patent infringements, intended patent revocations, patent portfolio analysis, etc., more suitable tools for executing efficient and in the end successful searches are needed. In those cases patent experts consult highly specialized databases provided by database hosts like STN, Lexis-Nexis, Dialog and others.
What is a ‘database host’? Hosts give a whole set of databases by various producers a virtual home. Their major advantages are that …
- hosts give access to professional databases which cover improved, high-quality, reliable patent information,
- hosts provide a common searching surface that enables the user to simultaneously search a bundle of selected databases,
- you can always decide yourself which database(s) out of the whole set will be used,
- the data fields are harmonized between the databases,
- the data between different databases are crosslinked,
- and there is just one bill.
The hosts major disadvantages are that they are not for free, and that you need to be trained in their specific retrieval languages. But these retrieval systems are essential for using the most powerful search and analysis tools. The hosts are already aware of that problem, and they try to win even those customers that are not used to retrieval languages. For example, they offer more and more search masks via Web interfaces. But to be honest … a search mask will never really be able to provide the same versatile functionalities a retrieval language does.
What host should I use? Most hosts set priority to a specific field of information. STN concentrates on scientific and literature information (biotech, pharma, chemistry, engineering, material science, etc.), Dialog on business and market information, and Lexis-Nexis on law and legal information. Interestingly, most hosts offer patent literature as this branch of specialist information is one of the most lucrative … shame to him who thinks evil of it. Delphion (formerly IBM patent server, now member of the Thomson Derwent Group) is the only host that offers just patent databases without the option to do cross-research with non-patent databases, but with extensive analysis tools.
You should also have closer look to the type of clearing procedure. With Dialog for example, you pay a flat fee in advance that expires after a year, independently if you used your account or not. Others, like STN Classic, calculate database usage time plus document royalties. Others, like STN Easy, have no time costs but slightly higher document royalties. Our recommendation for starting with host information searches regarding Life Science topics would be ‘STN Easy’, as this retrieval surface is more easy to use for beginners and the costs are comprehensible.
Finally, if you say “no, I do really not need to do also THAT”, you may consult a professional information searcher, called infobroker or information broker. Information brokers are experts in retrieving specialist information from various sources. Most of them are specialized to branches of businesses, and are organized in associations like the AIIP (Association of Independent Information Professionals) or the German DGI (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Informationswissenschaft und Informationspraxis).
In future posts I will go more into detail on pros&cons of specific databases and on proper strategies to get the most out of your research. Look forward!
Revised version of the article “Identifying High-Quality Patent Information”, originally published in June 2004 by Inside-Lifescience, ISSN 1610-0255.