Features for Comparison

Searches involve multiple steps: the formulation of queries, input of the queries via an interface, translation of the queries into actions by the search engine(s), the interaction of the search engines with data, collation of results, presentation of the results in some ranked order, often followed by refinement of the query for the start of a new cycle.  Thus, there are many points at which qualities of the various sites and services can differ, and many points at which faults in transmission, collectively known as “bugs”, can occur.  At the same time, there are many points of intervention to make searches perform as the user intends. Features that are of interest to the needs of a patent examiner were chosen in four main categories:  input, data, and output, and other user attributes:
Input criteria

  • Ability to search by IPC and/or ECLA
  • Complex Boolean structure
  • Search by publication date range
  • Wildcard options (‘?’, ‘*’, etc) for character and string
  • Ability to search terms “near” each other
  • Assignee, inventor list to catch mis-spelling

Data sources

  • Full text for searches
  • English abstracts for JP
  • Design patents? Images?
  • Non-patent databases at same site?
  • Data coverage (countries)
  • Other types of data available, such as chemical structures or biological sequences

Output criteria

  • Results list can be ordered by file date?
  • Results list can be ordered by publication date?
  • Results list can display titles and abstracts
  • Links are provided to full documents
  • Can the relevant patent documents (and non-patent literature for available databases) be retrieved within the coverage provided by each database?

Other criteria

  • Speed of returning results
  • Ease of navigation

To represent not only the search needs of the examiner but also the “public” user viewpoint, we assessed the following additional criteria, with the assumption that the user would want to carry out a series of increasingly refined or increasingly broad searches related to technology investigation and freedom to operate (FTO), and then to find out considerably more information relating to the capability to use technology in particular documents.
Input criteria

  • Ease of constructing a search query for the “non-expert” user
  • Availability of combinations of search fields for narrowing searches without sole recourse to Boolean operators
  • Availability of thesaurus or dictionary choices to assist with creating keyword sets (e.g. rice = ris = Oryza) and ability to search with keywords containing accents or in non-English languages
  • Can search terms be saved/retrieved to refine a previous search?

Data sources relating to particular identified patent documents

  • Accessibility of legal status information
  • Ease of extracting definitions of terms in the claims from the specification
  • Accessibility of cited references
  • Accessibility of prosecution history
  • Licensing information

Output criteria

  • Option for relevance ranking of results
  • Are documents other than English translated into English, and if so to what extent (abstract only? claims only?)