Online intellectual property resources go significantly beyond statutes, court decisions and application forms. Searchable databases exist for all types of IP registrations (international as well as U.S.) and, in some instances, pending litigation.
As is always the case on the Web, the free databases -- and there are many -- don’t consistently offer the same level of completeness and reliability that come from a commercial search. Still, they do offer a quick, cheap, and convenient starting point. If nothing else, the free IP databases frequently deliver valuable preliminary information. If you need the specifics of a current registration or lawsuit, for example, an online database may reveal enough for you to decide whether to order an official copy of documents. For patent or trademark applications, one simple search request may well turn up a conflicting registration that would cause problems if for the contemplated filing.
With those limitations in mind, here is a short list of searchable IP databases maintained by government, academic and institutional sites.
The Library of Congress Information System (LOCIS) contains copyright records since 1978 -- in theory. In practice, this system is an example of the frustrations and shortcomings of free searchable databases. The problem is that coverage can be erratic. On none of my visits over the past five years has LOCIS turned up a complete list of my personal copyright registrations. The latest, in late May 2000, was the first to come up with nearly all of them; previous attempts have consistently yielded less than a fourth.
If you want to give LOCIS a try, you’ll need a Telnet application, which will link your computer directly into the Library of Congress records. You’ll don’t actually have to launch Telnet, however. The page contains two hyperlinks that will do that for you. If neither works (I’ve never encountered any problems with them), look for connecting address just below them, which you should enter onto your Telnet screen after starting the application.
Read the LOCIS Users Guide (links to it are clear) before launching a search; in fact, it wouldn’t hurt to print out the page for reference. The help menus, once you are in LOCIS, are abbreviated and it’s hard to figure out which commands to enter to retrieve the information you want.
The PTO offers free access to two searchable patent databases. The full-text database contains full-page images of U.S. patents issued since January 1, 1976, while the bibliographic database has front page information for the same scope of patents. Both are current as of the most recent weekly issue date.
The basic search engine for either database supports Boolean operators, will look for two key terms in specified fields, and allows limiting searches to the year of issue. The advanced search will analyze a complicated search request, using much the same format as Westlaw or Lexis. (Help is there for the clicking.) You can also search by patent number.
Retrieved images are in Tagged Image File Format (TIFF), which requires a special TIFF plug-in for viewing. The site has links for downloading free TIFF browser plug-ins for both Windows and Macintosh platforms.
IBM's internal researchers developed this server for their own use, so no wonder the scope is impressive. The U.S. database covers patent descriptions and images from 1974 on, as well as some descriptions dating back to 1971. Five types of foreign records, all of which use bibliographic text, are also available:
- European patent applications (with full images, since 1979) and registrations (with full images, since 1980);
- abstracts of Japanese applications (with representative images, since October 1976);
- Patent Cooperation Treaty documents (since 1990, with full document images since 1998); and
- international INPADOC patent family documents (patents with similar claims from a variety of countries) from 65 patent offices and legal status information from 22 patent offices, both since 1968.
You can search by descriptive word or patent number, or enter an identifier such as inventor, assignee, title, claims or agent in the Advanced Text Search form. The search results report how many patents matched the request and displays the most relevant, which you can read in detail or order (for a fee) by fax or mail.
The search engines available here access a variety of patent filings (United Kingdom, European, Patent Cooperation Treaty/World International Property Organization, worldwide, and Japanese) in English, French, and German. Filings are retrievable in Portable Document Format, which requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader for viewing. There’s a link for downloading the reader, which is free.
Nineteen European countries have separate engines in their national languages: Austria, Belgium, Cypress, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Hellenic Republic, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
The site also maintains searchable databases of European Patent Office boards of appeals decisions and European patent attorneys and conventions.
Bookmark this page as a one-stop springboard to the searchable patent databases at IBM, the USPTO, and the European Patent Office, as well as two commercial sites.
The legal translation firm InterLingua.com maintains a free, searchable database of patent and trademark infringement cases. It’s under Who’s Suing Whom? On the Litigation Support page.
For trademark searches, the USPTO has two systems. Both provide information from the PTO’s internal database about pending or registered marks. The older one, the Trademark Application and Registration Retrieval System, uses the mark’s serial or registration number to retrieve information. It also allows searching the PTO’s trademark database by mark, registration or serial number, or keywords with Boolean constraints.
The system that will ultimately replace it is the Trademark Electronic Search System, TESS, which is currently running in a pilot program. Its structured search form looks for keywords in some 22 title fields, such as abandonment, filing or registration date, design code, description of mark, international class, or owner. This form also allows limited use of Boolean operators. The free form or advanced search handles more complicated queries and recognizes wildcard operators (such as the asterisk). For tips on using the free form option, look in the help menu under Phrase Searching, Special Search Features, and Common Search Strategies.
With either database, be sure the check the date of the latest data entry, because the database lags behind that date by about two months. The upshot is that, depending on when you consult it, the database can miss as much as the last four months of filings and registrations. For the latest information, hire a commercial firm, use one of the PTO’s fee-based trademark search libraries (in Arlington, VA, Sunnyvale, CA, and Houston, TX), or consult the Official Gazette, which discloses marks that have been registered or published for opposition.
DialogIP provides U.S. copyright filings, as well as U.S. and foreign trademarks and patents. You may retrieve documents for a per-item charge or subscribe for member access.
Patents & Trademarks
Micro-Patent offers online access to patent and trademark filings. Patent searches include U.S. records since 1964, worldwide front page information (from the U.S., Japan, European Patent Office, and Patent Cooperation Treaty) since 1976, and full text of U.S., EPO, and PCT documents as early as 1978. The trademark options cover pending applications, active registrations dating back to 1884, and more than 15 years of inactive registrations. Subscriptions are available on a daily and annual basis.
The Community of Science maintains a searchable bibliographic database at http://patents.cos.com/ of U.S. patents issued since 1975. The main search engine supports a variety of limiting parameters, such as patent number, date, assignee, inventor, title, abstract, exemplary claims (for recent years), and U.S. and international classifications. It’s also possible to search by state, country, or classification. Key to this site’s appeal is its patent citation tracking feature, which uncovers patent references to or by a particular registration. Annual subscriptions begin at $250 for an individual.
Thomson & Thomson has an online service with multiple features called SAEGIS. It allows you to comb the Web for occurrences of (or domain names incorporating) a proposed mark and receive e-mail notification of registrability. Thomson & Thomson’s extensive menu of search services may be ordered through the Web site (such as trademark searches covering federal, state, Canadian, and European databases). Pricing varies by service.