Questel•Orbit recently announced the release of FamPat, the family-based version of its international patent database PlusPat. An interesting feature of FamPat is that it gives searchers a choice of how broad a patent family they may display.
First, some background. Like PlusPat, FamPat has probably the broadest country and time coverage of any subject-searchable patent database. It covers 75 patenting authorities, and some countries go back to the early 20th century (or even earlier: Germany goes back to 1877). The very early records only have numeric information. However, this includes ECLA classes in some cases, so they can be retrieved in subject searches. Subject-searchable elements include:
- title and abstract text and (for some French patents) indexing terms
- ECLA (European Patent Office) classifications, as applied by the EPO, including the ICO (in computer only) classes that cover non-inventive and other aspects of the patent
- U.S. patent classes as applied by the USPTO
- International Patent Classes as applied by most countries' patent offices
One major advantage of FamPat over PlusPat is that searchers can look for all these elements across all members of a patent family. For instance, a Boolean terminology search could pick up one term from one country's abstract and another term from a different abstract. (And, yes, the abstracts can vary from country to country, depending on different countries' requirements.) Searchers can look for IPCs from all family members, as well as ECLA and U.S. classes, combined with terminology from all family members' text. Patent assignees and inventors, which can vary from country to country, are also searchable across all members of a patent family.
As previously mentioned, an interesting aspect of FamPat is its handling of patent families. FamPat starts its patent family with the EPO/espacenet strict family—a group of patent documents that all have exactly the same priority or priorities. FamPat has expanded this to include additional family members as defined by some patenting authorities' varying rules. For example, Japanese patent law requires narrower claims than many other countries. Let's say three Japanese patent publications that are closely related show up as three publications with three different priorities. They will be listed as three separate records. However, if a U.S. patent then shows up citing all three of the Japanese priorities (and, presumably, covering all three of the Japanese publications' technology), FamPat combines all four of them into one FamPat family. In other words, their families are dynamic rather than static.
If searchers want broader families, they may choose to use the FAM command to generate an INPADOC extended family. This is a group of patent documents where every member has at least one common priority with at least one other member of the family. As my old friend and colleague Stu Kaback used to point out, this sometimes generates families full of third cousins twice removed who show no visible relationship to each other. And it can generate huge families that sometimes contain hundreds of members. Still, the capability helps you ensure that you have indeed found all members of interest in a patent family. Searchers can use the FAM command either on individual patents or on sets of search results. And, as in PlusPat, searchers can create merged family displays of members of an extended family.
FamPat also provides extensive patent citation information. Forward and backward citation searching is available for U.S., European, PCT, British, and French family members; Questel•Orbit plans to add Germany soon. A family citation command will generate both forward and backward citations for all members of the patent family.
Searchers may also specify EPO relevance indicators as applied to European, PCT, and French documents. The Questel•Orbit fact sheet for FamPat (located at http://www.questel.orbit.com/EN/customersupport/Userdoc/Fctsht/FamPat.pdf) lists eight different relevance indicators; of major interest are X (relates directly to the invention), Y (relates to the invention when combined with another reference), and A (technology background). So, to start a validity search for a granted U.S. patent, the searcher might look closely at all the X and Y citations in its European equivalent.
Searchers have a wide choice of display options. They may see one abstract or all of them. They will always see a list of family members, but they may choose to see details for each family member: assignees, inventors, domestic applications, priorities, and IPCs as assigned by that country's examiner. The fact sheet lists a wide variety of display options.
Statistical searching is possible on FamPat, with some advantages. FamPat de-duplicates the assignees in a family record, so the searcher gets only one form of the assignee name in a statistical analysis. All fielded numeric data within a family are available for analysis; therefore, an analysis of patenting or priority dates will include that data from all family members.
Look for developments involving FamPat's cross-file and multifile search capabilities with other Questel•Orbit databases later this year.