Delphion, formerly the IBM Intellectual Property Network, announced a change in its pricing scheme that started June 1. Much of what used to be available for free will now come at a price. At the same time, the company has introduced some new products and capabilities, also for a fee. Delphion now offers two levels of paid subscriptions and one free level with relatively limited access.
This is not surprising, since Delphion is clearly a commercial enterprise and never espoused the altruistic motives that IBM claimed when it first mounted its patent server. IBM had started the patent server as an internal resource for researchers, and it said that it could "offer a public service while incurring only a small amount of additional expense." It also said that making the site public would "increase general awareness of the capabilities of the Internet" and "give public access to public information."
Nor should Delphion's users object to this. Delphion must have income if it's to develop useful new products and support its current products and users adequately. Also, perhaps paradoxically, it doesn't pose as much of a threat now that it's charging for access. That is, professional patent searchers may not have to fight so hard with their management, who often don't understand the differences between Internet-based end-user patent databases and the more powerful traditional online databases, and who wonder why they're paying for expensive patent databases when "you can do it all for free on the Internet." But, increasingly, you can't.
So what's available on Delphion now and what does it cost? A summary description of the Basic, Premier, and Unlimited access packages appears on the Delphion site at http://www.delphion.com/products-subscriptions. From this page, if you click on "Compare our subscription packages," you go to a detailed checklist of the current Delphion features available for each subscription level.
The Basic (free) package offers just simple keyword (not Boolean or Advanced search functions) and patent-number searching of only U.S. bibliographic text, plus image viewing of the patent front page. Basic users may also search IP listings (patents available for licensing) and use the IP Resource Center to link to other Internet patent resources. But that's about it.
Both Premier and Unlimited subscribers have access to almost everything Delphion offers. The major differences are that Premier subscribers pay $3 apiece for individual patents via Adobe PDF or TIFF downloads, and they also pay individually for alerts (ongoing patent searches) and for text clustering (a text-mining tool). Unlimited subscribers pay nothing extra for these services. Also, Unlimited subscribers are guaranteed a customer-support response within 6 business hours, whereas Premier subscribers may have to wait 24 business hours.
Delphion has added quite a lot to its site, most of it available only to paid subscribers. Some new resources include the following:
- Full-text searching of U.S. patents dating back to 1971, EP-A-published applications from 1987, EP-B-granted patents from 1991, and PCT-published applications from 1978. (Note that paid subscribers may search any combination of these country collections, together with Patent Abstracts of Japan, although the system does not yet group patent family members together.)
- A file of U.S. patent images dating back to 1790. Anyone may search by patent number; paid subscribers may also search U.S. patent class—but only the classes originally on the patents, not reclassifications (a situation that will hopefully change).
- The ability to save search strategies by name, edit them, run them manually against different country collections or time periods, use them in alerting searches, "clone" them and edit the clones to create new saved searches, and combine multiple saved searches with Boolean logic to create more complex searches (although each saved search is still limited to one search statement)
- Automated alerting searches that run on any or all of the country collections and are delivered electronically every 2 weeks, every 4 weeks, or whenever the files are updated (based on the searcher's choice)
- Access to IP.com, a database of disclosure publications, for non-patent prior-art searching to supplement the traditional technical literature databases
- Browsable hierarchies of International Patent Classifications (latest edition only)
What's Not Free Anymore
Searchers who were used to accessing most of Delphion's services for free will have to grit their teeth and subscribe to at least the Premier level. Resources that used to be free and are now available only to paid subscribers include the following:
- Searching of U.S. patent full text with a choice of keyword, Boolean, or Advanced search logic
- Searching of non-U.S. (EP-A, EP-B, PCT, and Japanese) bibliographic data
- Viewing full patent images
- Browsing U.S. patent-class hierarchies
- Inpadoc patent-family and legal-status information
- Links to cited/citing patents
- Links to Hoover's Business Profile's company information
- Access to IBM Technical Disclosure Bulletins
- Links to ISI's Science Citation Index, with free viewing of titles
So what does all of this cost? Price comparisons between Delphion and MicroPatent are relevant, since Delphion, with its added databases, is now to some extent comparable to MicroPatent in search and patent copy resources. Delphion Premier subscribers pay $75 per month per searcher, or $900 per year. Unlimited subscribers pay $150 per month per user, or $1,800 per year. Compare this to MicroPatent's search subscription price of $7,500 per year, which doesn't include patent copies. (It does, however, now include full-text searching of U.S. patents with optical character recognition dating back to 1836—a distinct advantage in some areas of technology. MicroPatent just announced an annual subscription for searching just U.S. patents all the way back "for the special introductory rate of $495/year.") One-day access to Delphion is available for $29 (Premier level), compared to $95 on MicroPatent.
Delphion charges $3 per Adobe PDF/TIFF patent copy for patents in its collection, while MicroPatent charges $4.95. On the other hand, MicroPatent does provide copies of patents not in its standard collection—older patents and patents from countries other than the basic four—for $8.95 each (details available at http://www.micropat.com/0/new_patentdoc9809.html). Delphion does not currently provide patent copies outside its collections.
Given the directions in which its resources and capabilities are growing, I infer that Delphion wants to give MicroPatent some serious competition for both end-user patent searching and patent document delivery. It's not free anymore, but its prices are certainly competitive.