Questel•Orbit recently announced the release of the third version of QPAT, its Internet-based patent search service. QPAT1, introduced by Questel in April 1996, provided full-text searching of U.S. patents only. QPAT2 added European-published applications and granted patents but kept the same search engine. The databases for QPAT versions 1 and 2 were mounted separately from Questel's online databases.
Version 3 is completely new. It provides an interface to patent databases that are produced by Questel•Orbit and are currently mounted on its online host. These databases include full-text files of both U.S. and European patents and published applications, plus a bibliographic file of PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty, or World) published applications. The default database, and probably the most useful one, is PlusPat, Questel•Orbit's bibliographic database of patents from 69 countries that dates back as far as 1920 (for U.S. and major Western European countries). For patents dating back to the early 1970s, at least one member of a PlusPat family includes an English-language abstract, so the database permits free-text searching as well as subject searching by three different patent classifications.
The search modes in QPAT3 are the following:
In addition to subject searching, QPAT3 lets you enter a patent number and retrieve a list of both older patents cited in your patent and more recent patents citing your patent. You can also enter a patent number and find its international patent family from among PlusPat's 69 countries.
- Standard—You enter a string of search terms, and the system links them with Boolean AND logic. You can search company or inventor names or patent numbers separately but cannot combine them with subject search terms. Multiterm company and inventor names are automatically linked with a SENTENCE operator, so that, for instance, a search of "David Smith" does not retrieve patents by David Jones and John Smith. You can also search multiple inventors or companies by entering them separated with commas.
- Advanced—You enter a string of search terms and choose whether the system will link them with AND, OR, or EXACT PHRASE logic. You can search by company or inventor name or patent number either as separate searches or to limit a keyword search. You can also search or limit by a variety of patent classifications: U.S., IPC (International Patent Classes), or ECLA (the classification system of the European Patent Office).
- Professional—You enter search terms in nested Boolean logic with proximity operators. Again, you can search or limit your search by company or inventor names, patent numbers, or patent classes. You can also, in fact, include any of these parameters in a nested Boolean search, appropriately post-qualified. This will be documented in the next edition of QPAT3.
QPAT3 also provides some interesting capabilities to help users find and search patent classes, especially ECLA classes. These very detailed subject classifications have been rather underused until now because neither Derwent nor Inpadoc have loaded them into their records. But PlusPat includes them and QPAT3 gives you an easy way to find appropriate ECLA classes and search them. When you do a subject search, you can then click on "Get European Class Codes" to produce a ranked list of the most commonly occurring ECLA classes in your search results. You can click on individual classes to look at their class hierarchies (which define their subject matter) and choose appropriate classes for further searching. The one-click linking from ECLA classes to their hierarchies makes them fairly easy to use in QPAT3.
You can also do a patent-class-based "Similarity" search. You enter the number of a known relevant patent, and the system searches the ECLA class assigned to that patent. Or you can do a "World US Patent Search." In this case, you enter the number of a known relevant U.S. patent. The system then translates the U.S. original (main) classification into corresponding ECLA classes and searches for international patents with those ECLA classes.
QPAT3 has very strong and easy-to-use capabilities for viewing search results and ordering patent copies. You can choose "Shoebox" (one record at a time) or "Scroll File" (as few or as many records at a time as you choose). In the first case, you see a bibliographic record with drawing (when available). In the second case, you can choose from a number of display formats. You can also choose to include legal-status information, full claims, or full text (also when available). In both cases, while you're viewing your search results, you can click on patent numbers of interest to order full copies of the patents. The full copies come from Esp@cenet, the European Patent Office's document delivery service, so you have access to a much wider range of both countries and time coverage than are provided by many of the other Internet patent copy services. And QPAT3 bypasses the Esp@cenet one-page-at-a-time downloading problems, giving you a full patent in one Adobe PDF file.
You can also use the system simply to order patents, up to 10 at a time, from Esp@cenet. You will find the patent order form in the directory and also in the pull-down menu of search modes.
QPAT3 has some of the best and most easily accessible online help I've seen in an Internet patent product. Each search mode has a help screen tailored to that mode, as do the family, citation, similarity, and world U.S. patent searches, and the patent-order screen. You simply go to the type of search that you want to do and click on "Help."
QPAT3 still has some weaknesses, especially from the viewpoint of professional searchers, since it still lacks many of the capabilities of the online hosts:
However, QPAT3 has some potential for growth and development. Some plans in the pipeline include the following:
- You still cannot create sets of search results and combine them with Boolean logic. Each new search wipes out the old search.
- You cannot expand on indexes of company or inventor names to see variations in name forms.
- You cannot move search results from one database to another or search multiple databases at one time.
- You can search only one patent number at a time in a citation search. You cannot do one unified search on a group of similar patents (and thus eliminate duplicates among the cited/citing patents). You also cannot do one citation search on a full patent family.
QPAT3's pricing includes everything: unlimited subject searching, citation and patent family searching, legal-status information, and even full copies of patents. The price for a company's first user ID is $8,000 per year. The price drops dramatically for the second and subsequent IDs, to the point that all IDs over the first 10 are just $500 per year. Questel•Orbit will also negotiate site or global contracts.
- Citation searches of full patent families
- Possible citation searches of multiple patents on the same subject
- Links to the PatentOrder software to provide more document downloading options
- An expansion of the Professional search mode into a powerful interface for precision subject searching
QPAT3 is worth keeping an eye on. It's very different from the current popular Internet patent information sites, and it has a lot of potential. Watch for my Better Mousetrap column in the February issue of Searcher for more details on QPAT3. And call Questel•Orbit (800/456-7248) if you're interested in subscribing to QPAT3 or trying it out.