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 state) 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 for a contemplated filing.
With those limitations in mind, here is a catalog of searchable IP databases maintained by government, academic and institutional sites. The list now includes specialized U.S. patent databases, Canadian patent and trademark registrations, the European Patent Office and trademark registration databases from 14 states. If a state is not in the catalog, it is because multiple search attempts, from a variety of approaches, did not turn up evidence of a trademark database. I welcome notice of any omissions or newly added databases at email@example.com.
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.
LOCIS is not available on federal holidays and from 5 PM Eastern time Saturdays until noon on Sunday.
The PTO offers free access to two searchable patent databases. The patent grants database contains full-page images of U.S. patents issued since 1790 (that’s not a misprint; a recent update pushed the database back almost 200 years.) It also includes the full text of all patents issued since 1976. (Sequence listings for almost all of the biosequence patents published in 2001 are missing from the full-text database, but do appear in the full-page database.) The second database contains the full text and full-pages images of all patent applications published since March 15, 2001. The bibliographic database, which had front page information for full-text patents, was discontinued at the end of 2000. For either active database, check the Load Status link to verify the most recent updating.
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 or application number.
The site has a shopping cart for ordering copies of documents by fax or Internet delivery.
This site grew out of the IBM Intellectual Property Network (once known as the IBM Patent Server), after IBM teamed up with a company called Internet Capital Group in mid-2000. IBM's internal researchers initially developed this network 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. Seven 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);
- 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;
- image from the Swiss Patent Office, from January 15, 1990; and the Derwent World Patents Index, which has English language abstracts, enhanced titles, and images of patents since 1963.
After June 1, 2001, only the U.S. bibliographic data will be available at no charge. The rest of the resources will convert to two levels of subscription programs, Unlimited and Premier (which contains some level of pay-per-use basis). The resources will expand to include pre-1971 U.S. patents, the full text of EPO, PCT, and WIPO patents, and the Derwent Patent Watch alert service.
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 site imposes a fee for downloading laser-printer quality first pages or images. Free copies of patents still appear to be available by using the View Images option from a patents details page. The site also has summaries of IBM Technical Disclosure Bulletins from 1958-1998.
This site has two databases of patents and patent applications owned by the Department of Energy or its contractors or assignees. The cumulative database, which is updated every six months, has bibliographic citations of patents that were developed at DOE labs or by contract researchers since 1978. It includes patent applications processed for the Energy Science and Technology Database (EDB) after January 1993. The Current Release Database contains only the latest EDB patents and patent applications, some of which are available in full text.
The Foundation for Genetic Medicine and the Georgetown University Kennedy Institute of Ethics offer the full-text of DNA patents issued by the USPTO. The compilers have categorized the patent claims by biological classification, function, or application. The page discloses when it was most recently updated.As of 4/26/2000 (which is still the most recently disclosed updating), the database contained nearly 16,000 patent documents.
Although this resource is not, strictly speaking, within the scope of this RoundUp, its database may nonetheless be useful to intellectual property researchers. The Institute defines its interest as the "folklore" of the computing industry. As a result, the searchable database contains descriptions of software technology that have been excerpted from computer manuals, textbooks, journals, conference proceedings, computer science theses, technical reports, and other documents that are generally not available elsewhere online. The sources date from the mid-1950s on.
This database contains more than 75 years worth of patent descriptions and images. It is a fruitful starting place for a spectrum of international databases. The Search Foreign Patents option gives access to a variety of Patent Cooperation Treaty, Madrid Express, and JOPAL Express databases as well as the USPTO, European Patent Office, National Institute of Industrial Property, and the Japanese Patent Office. It has restricted access.
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 Delphion, the USPTO, and the European Patent Office, as well as two commercial sites.
The legal translation firm InterLingua.com Inc. maintains a free, searchable database of patent, trademark infringement copyright infringement cases. Complete docket reports are available for $25.
The USPTO provides information from the PTO’s internal database about pending or registered marks through the Trademark Electronic Search System or TESS. TESS offers three means of searching. TESS’ new user or basic search form retrieves word marks, serial or registration numbers, and owners. The structured search form looks for keywords in more than 30 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.
Explanatory notes indicate that the databases is now being updated more frequently (before 6:30 A.M. Tuesday through Saturday). Previously, it was advisable to check the date of the latest data entry, because the database lagged behind that by about two months. Look under News! to learn the most complete paper and electronic filing dates, as well as when each was put into TESS.
Arizona: The Secretary of State includes includes trademarks and trade names in the database of searchable trade names, corporations, and limited liability companies.
Arkansas: The Secretary of State’s corporations database includes trademark filings.
Colorado: Trademark records are included in the new online business records database maintained by the Secretary of State.
Florida: The Secretary of State’s Sunbiz utility retrieves trademarks and names of their owners.
Georgia: The Secretary of State’s trademark database is updated daily.
Louisiana: The Secretary of State’s corporations database includes trademarks.
Maryland: The Secretary of State has a search engine for summary information pertaining to trademark registrations.
Minnesota: The Secretary of State offers direct access to its business records database for a nominal fee. A two-week trial is available at no cost.
Tennessee: The Secretary of State's searchable trademark database covers active and pending trademarks, current as of three working days prior to the date of viewing.
Texas: The Secretary of State’s fee-based Direct Access System includes trademark filings.
Utah: Trademark registrations appear in the Department of Commerce's Business Entity Search database. Check "Details" to ascertain the most recent updating.
Vermont: A trademark name finder is among the Secretary of State’s searchable databases.
West Virginia: Some trademark data is indexed in the Secretary of State Business Information System, to prevent new corporations from registering names that infringe on trade or service marks. The Secretary of State maintains a separate database for trademark searches, which the office will search, for a fee, on request. Search information appears at the trademark page. Click the icon of a magnifying glass at the top of the page to request a search.
Wyoming: The Secretary of State’s corporations database includes trademark filings.
Canadian Intellectual Property Office Canadian Trade-Mark Database: The database contains all active marks; some inactive ones; all marks that were canceled, expunged, abandoned, or refused after 1979; and some that were canceled, expunged, abandoned, or refused before 1979. It also includes words and designs that are protected by legislation or otherwise not available for registration. The site discloses when it was most recently updated.
DialogIP provides U.S. copyright filings, as well as U.S. and foreign trademarks and patents. You may retrieve patent documents for a per-item charge or subscribe for member access; the trademarks and U.S. copyright databases require a subscription.
Copyrights & Trademarks
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 U.S. or Canadian copyright searches or trademark searches covering federal, state, Canadian, and European databases). Pricing varies by service.
Patents & Trademarks
Micro-Patent offers online access to patent and trademark filings. Patent searches (via Patent Web) include worldwide front page information (from the U.S., Japan, European Patent Office, and Patent Cooperation Treaty), full text of U.S., EPO, and PCT documents as early as 1976, and Japanese abstracts, dating back as far as 1976. A customizable alert service is now available, which sends out e-mail notices of patent filings that match a user-defined profile.
Micro-Patent has recast its trademark services as Trademark.com. It boasts access to complete and up-to-date federal and state filings, common law trademark data (based on business usage), and Network Solutions’ top-level domain name registrations. (Before the name change, the site disclosed that its options also included pending applications, active registrations dating back to 1884, and more than 15 years of inactive registrations. These features are no longer mentioned in the pre-subscription portions of the site.) The site quotes rates for four-hour subscriptions; annual and multi-user site subscriptions are also available.
The Community of Science maintains a searchable bibliographic database 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.
The British patent and scientific information firm offers several intellectual property databases and services, which are available online through such partners as Delphion, Dialog Select, and Westlaw. The Derwent World Patents Index covers data from 40 patent-issuing authorities, with an emphasis on European, while the Patents Citation Index draws on data from six major patent offices. The Innovations Index merges information from the WPI and PCI. A user-customized portion of the WPI is available as the Derwent Selection. The Patent Watch Service issues monthly updates of patent activity that matches a customized profile.
The patent services include investigating existing patents and monitoring new applications, from an archive that encompasses U.S. patents since 1974, European Patent Office applications and grants since 1978, PCT applications since 1986, and unexamined applications from Japanese patent abstracts since 1976. The Technology Tracking feature provides alerts on new industry developments and patent applications.
This business-oriented trademark registration service will monitor filings in the U.S. and Canada, as well as potentially infringing domain name registrations.