Over the next year and a half, Questel-Orbit (http://www.questel.orbit.com) will unify its software and databases through an initiative called Intellectual Property Gold, focusing on patent and trademark databases. At the same time, it will put an end to an historic software in the history of the traditional online information industry, as it shuts down the Orbit side of its operation. In combining operations, Questel-Orbit will move the databases currently exclusively on the Orbit server over to the Questel server and software, re-titling the Questel Plus 2 search engine as simply Questel-Orbit.
The company expects the unification on one service software to simplify research procedures for customers and allow users to search the entire catalog of databases. They hope the unification will improve customer service and promote the efficient development of new databases, search features, and document delivery solutions. Current Orbit searchers, mostly based in the U.S., will have to switch and learn the Questel software, if they do not already use Questel.
According to David T. Dickens, director of Online Products USA and Intellectual Property Gold project manager, the Questel and Orbit servers currently co-exist in parallel on the same mainframe, but with different databases. Of the 200-plus databases available on Questel-Orbit, each side of the current system carries about half, with minimal overlap. The Questel side carries all the trademark files; some patents; French news sources; and some scientific, technical, and chemistry files, while the Orbit server carries mostly patents and intellectual property files as well as many energy and sci-tech databases. Questel-Orbit recently added some 1 million images to its PCTPAT (Patent Convention Treaty applications in all disciplines), FPAT (French patents from INPI), and EPAT (European patents from INPI and the European Patent Office), with the introduction of patent drawings back to 1978.
The Questel service owned by France Telecom bought Orbit Search Service in March of 1994. Orbit began in the 1960s at the Systems Development Corporation as a contract to create an online searching software for the National Library of Medicine's Medlars database. At the same time, the Atomic Energy Commission had a grant with Lockheed that led to the birth of Dialog. After failing to compete successfully with Dialog, Orbit changed hands several times before its sale to Questel. When Questel bought it, the company initially hoped to build interchangeable features that would make a seamless interface between its own Questel software and Orbit, one that would support all its users, both European and American. However, according to Dickens, further analysis showed that such a task would have required too much commitment of resources.
Over the next 12 to 18 months, Questel plans to cope with the programming issues necessary to meet its promises to Orbit users to offer the same levels of functionality on the Questel system. By the end of 1998, it expects to move over the more important files such as Tulsa and the Inpadoc databases.
With Orbit's remaining user base primarily in the United States, Questel-Orbit hopes to keep its American clients from migrating to STN International, the leading online sci-tech competitor. According to one experienced patent searcher, Orbit's PowerSearch software offers probably the best cross-file patent family grouping and de-duplication features of any existing online patent service. Though STN has improved greatly over the last few years, particularly in its patent coverage and features, it still does not have a service that can match Orbit in key areas such as "de-duping." If Questel-Orbit can meet its promise to match Orbit's strengths, it may succeed in holding onto its U.S. clients and adding to them, according to one commentator.