By the late fall of this year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) will have loaded its full-text, full-image collection of patent and trademark data onto the Web—over 20 million pages of information. This will constitute the largest electronic library of patent and trademark data available free on the Internet, according to Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley. When complete, the array of data will include the full text of 2 million patents dating back to 1976 and the text and clipped images of 800,000 trademarks and 300,000 pending registrations from the late 1800s to the present—all available free to the public on the Internet.
As currently scheduled, trademark text will go online in August, with trademark images and patent text following in November. Patent images that correlate to text will go online—also free—by March of 1999. Users will also be able to order high-quality copies for electronic delivery online at the same $3-per-copy price they now pay.
The PTO already offers a significant body of patent information on the Web. In 1994 it opened free Internet access to a database of some 3,000 full-text AIDS research-related patents, including document images for over half the entries, adding some 1,500 foreign patents later. In 1995, it posted 20 years of patent bibliographic data and abstracts from over 2 million patents in the PatBib database. Currently the PatBib file serves over 3 million pages a month or some 400,000 hits a day.
In comparison with the free offering from the U.S. PTO Web site (http://www.uspto.gov), the simplest search—quickie search strategy, short browse, single full-text display of a patent—on a commercial service such as STN International or MicroPatent could cost from $3 to $5. Search software capabilities differ widely among suppliers, of course. For example, in trademark searching, Thomson & Thomson's Trademarkscan, available from Dialog and through Thomson & Thomson's own Web-accessible SAEGIS service, provides alternative spelling, sound-alike, and automatic singular/plural treatments. According to a PTO representative, the organization has no intention of offering similar sophistication in its trademark database. The simplest trademark search on SAEGIS would cost around $2.50 for a full record, according to a Thomson & Thomson representative.
Interested users might want to test the prospective software the PTO will use on its expanded full-text files by trying out the AIDS Patent database (http://aids.uspto.gov). As on the AIDS Patent database now, the new full-text patent content will be fully searchable by keywords in the bibliographic and abstract fields, and also in the patent specification and claims. The system offers complex Boolean, field searching, phrase searching, date ranging, right truncation, relevance ranking, cross-file searching, and more-like-this options (patent-, class-, inventor-, or assignee-specific).
Internally the PTO has improved automation of its operations, according to Bruce A. Lehman, commissioner of patents and trademarks. In 1997, it initiated a pilot project in trademark operations that allows selected participants to submit trademark applications electronically, using the Internet. After reviewing the pilot program, the PTO has decided to broaden the scope of the electronic filing program and accept electronic submissions of documents other than applications for registering trademarks.
The PTO does not rely heavily on appropriated funds for its operations, relying instead on revenues from use of its services. A representative indicated that filing fees for patents and trademarks constituted the bulk of that revenue. However, the PTO admits it may lose some revenue from reduced sales of patent records if users substitute Web-derived patents for off-line document delivery or if outside vendors lose business—and therefore reduce royalty payments—as the PTO Web site competes with traditional online service for U.S. patents and trademarks.