Not Enough Progress on Google Patent Search

May. 4.08 | About: Alphabet Inc. (GOOG)

In December 2006, I described my initial impressions of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Patent Search beta, a free USPTO patent search engine, powered by Google. As you’ll read, I wasn’t thrilled with this early release.

So, how has Google fared with some time–nearly 17 months–to marinate its patent search engine?

First off, Google hasn’t promoted the service out of beta yet. I don’t know how Google decides to promote a new tool to production, but I have to think that many thousands of searches have been made with it since beta testing began, and they’ve had plenty of time to work out the kinks. Beta schmeta…is it good enough to recommend?

Once again, I’ll compare Google Patent Search directly to the USPTO search engine, as Google has not yet added international patents.

The Google search interface has been improved and provides simple form field searching for patent number, inventor, assignee, classification code (US and international), issue date, and filing date. Google’s advanced search operators also work, including the “-” for NOT and “OR”.

The USPTO quick search allows search of all these fields plus some two dozen more, and their advanced search interface allows all of these delimiters to be accessed simultaneously, albeit using a complex syntax. If you’re doing serious patent research, Google’s search interface will simply not provide you with enough search specificity to meet your needs.

For simple searches, the USPTO quick search and Google Patent advanced search interfaces are similar in user-friendliness and utility. (The basic Google Patent search has very limited utility.) So, the key differentiators will be result accuracy and result presentation.

Last time I looked at the Google service, it offered results in a list sorted by relevance-according-to-Google. In my mind, this made the service virtually useless for industry-based searchers. Google has since added in a date sorting. I would have preferred having a patent number sorting option, but date at least makes the search worth doing.

As for relevance, I’m still scratching my head with Google. It seems to return results in some quasi-random way. For instance, search the exact phrase (in quotes) “Eli Lilly”(NYSE:LLY) the field assignee name, using the entire USPTO issued patent database (quick search) or Google Patent Search (advanced search). The USPTO returns 3,793 hits dating back to 1971. Google returns only 527 issued patents dated to 1976, and very strangely, only 461 filings of any status (issued plus applications combined–yes this number is lower than issued patents alone!), and just 46 patent applications (USPTO returns 94 applications).

Clearly, there is something amiss with Google’s Patent Search. It really does behave as a beta product, despite its protracted time in use. It has some potential advantages to the USPTO search in theory, claiming, for example, full-content access to all US issued patents, whereas the USPTO offers full-text access only as far back as 1976. But it remains fatally flawed for all research purposes except cherry-picking individual patents by number, when you are certain the patent number is correct.