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Questel•Orbit in the New Millennium
Posted On January 29, 2001
Last year, Jean Besson, head of Questel•Orbit, bought 80 percent of the company from the telecommunications giant France Telecom. Predictably, he has spent some time since then planning a reorganization. Questel•Orbit ( announced the results this past week.

Pierre Buffet is general manager in the Paris office, essentially Questel•Orbit's chief operating officer, reporting directly to Besson. He is in charge of managing the company worldwide—patents, trademarks, products, and sales.

Charles Besson, Jean Besson's son, will become president of Questel•Orbit U.S. and take over leadership of the office in McLean, Virginia. Charles Besson attended business school in France and has an M.B.A. from the Sorbonne. He doesn't have an intellectual property background, but he has worked for the last 8 years in sales management in South America. He formed his own computer software company, Sonecom, a year ago. Besson has been in the McLean office for the past 3 months looking at financial and sales matters and will focus on what he knows: understanding the market, distributing the sales force, and, in general, making money.

David Dickens, who last year was trying to do two jobs as general manager of Questel•Orbit's U.S. office and director of patent business, was torn between his international responsibilities for patents and his national responsibility for business issues. He will now be able to focus on the patent business.

Dickens heads up a formidable team for patent-information-resources development. Linda Williams, technical product manager, started in the McLean office in 1989, doing database design, and moved to France in 1994. She is located at the Questel•Orbit technical office in Sophia, France, loading databases and doing in-depth systems work. Lindley McGrew, patent product manager, started with InfoLine in 1986 and stayed with Orbit through 1995. He went to Derwent for 3 years and was back consulting with Questel•Orbit last year, helping with the merger and loading PlusPat. He is now back full time. Roger West, manager of patent content, has been with Orbit since 1989 as both a teacher and a presence on the help desk.

This team will deal with new patent product development, among other things. They plan to introduce a database of German patents and utility models going back to 1968. It will be in German but searchable by ECLA codes, the European Patent Office's very detailed patent subject classifications. They also introduced PATOLIS-e—the English-language version of Japanese legal status and other patent information—to the European market last year. The company will make this service available in the U.S. "when it is successful in Europe."

This team will also deal with the Questel•Orbit systems developments needed to enhance patent and trademark searching on their online host. (Issues and wish-list items should be directed to team members.) The team also plans to improve the system by working through a priority list—SDI (ongoing search) and cluster (multifile search) enhancements are at the top of the list now.

Renaud Garat is Questel•Orbit's new North American sales manager. He has been in the McLean office about a year and a half, and before that was in the Paris sales office. He is very involved with Web development and is a champion of end-user causes. Look for new end-user-based products from Questel•Orbit in the near future.

Questel•Orbit's business plan for the next 3 years will focus on intellectual property. Jean Besson confirmed that phasing out the company's non-core businesses has resulted in a steady level of revenues, despite customer fears. The patent business is growing, but the trademark business is growing even faster. The company will work on increasing both patent and trademark customers in California, tapping the increasing number of biotech, high-tech, and computer companies that could benefit from the right information. Questel•Orbit plans to add new patent and trademark reps in California and also post a full-time customer service and training person in San Francisco.

One idea I have advocated to Questel•Orbit (and Orbit before it) is to grab new searchers so that Questel•Orbit is the first online host they learn. To do this, Questel•Orbit needs to establish a presence in library schools and law schools. This, in fact, is one of its plans for the future. With a little cooperation from the patent database producers, future searchers with a science background could learn the basics of IP lore and searching while they're still in school. And then we old fogies can retire without worrying quite so much about who will be around to replace us.

Nancy Lambert is a senior information analyst at the ChevronTexaco Business and Real Estate Services Technical Library.

Email Nancy Lambert
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