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, and trademark registration databases from 10 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 full-text 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.)
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. For pre-1976 patents, however, the only search options are patent number or current U.S. classification.
The site now has a shopping cart for ordering copies of documents by fax or Internet delivery. The ordering button worked in Internet Explorer, but I received error messages when I pressed it using Netscape Navigator.
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. 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 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 1958-1997.
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, the database contained nearly 16,000 patent documents.
This database contains more than 75 years worth of patent descriptions and images. The Search Foreign Patents option gives access to a variety of Patent Cooperation Treaty databases, as well as the USPTO and European Patent Office.
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 (formerly 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. Complete docket reports are available for $25.
For trademark searches, the USPTO has two systems. Both provide information from the PTO’s internal database about pending or registered marks. To check on the status of a mark, use the Trademark Application and Registration Retrieval System, which retrieves information by the mark’s serial or registration number. The Trademark Electronic Search System, TESS, offers three means of searching. TESS’ new user or basic search form handles word marks, serial or registration numbers, and owners. The 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.
Explanatory notes indicate that the databases are now being updated more frequently. Previously, it was advisable to check the date of the latest data entry, because the database lagged behind that by about two months. The site now states that the TARR database is updated daily between 7 and 8 AM Eastern time. TESS updates are scheduled for Tuesday-Saturday before 6:30 am. Look under News! to learn the most complete paper and electronic filing dates, as well as when each was put into TESS.
Arizona: The State of Arizona Public Access System, a searchable database of name filings with the Corporation Commission, includes trademarks and trade names.
Arkansas: The Secretary of State’s corporations database includes trademark filings.
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.
Texas: The Secretary of State’s fee-based Direct Access System includes trademark filings.
Vermont: A trademark name finder is among the Secretary of State’s searchable databases.
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 documents for a per-item charge or subscribe for member access.
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.
Micro-Patent has recast its trademark services as Trademark.com and no longer details the scope of the database (except to disclose that Network Solutions’ top-level domain name registrations have been added). Previously, the options including pending applications, active registrations dating back to 1884, and more than 15 years of inactive registrations. 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.