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STN Version One: New Searching Platform Under Development
Posted On January 24, 2013
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A recent press release from Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) and FIZ Karlsruhe announced Version One of the new STN platform for searching STN. The new web-based search platform has been released in beta to STN’s fixed fee customers with rollout anticipated eventually to all STN customers. The press release suggests that the content currently available is Chemical Abstracts and Derwent files. It offers one very favorable testimonial from one beta-tester. STN has offered a command-driven search platform for patent searchers and information professionals for about 3 decades and is distinct from SciFinder, CAS’s end-user chemistry research tool, an alternative to STN. Fixed-fee service and pricing of STN usage is an option for any customer, especially those with predictable searching needs.

I’ve been an STN user since the advent of CAS ONLINE more than 30 years ago, both at my full-time position and later as an independent. Although my usage has (unfortunately) dropped in the past few years, I’m still interested in developments in the search platform. Although never primarily a patent searcher, I have searched patents throughout my career.

To gain more information than provided by the announcement, I talked with Cristina Tomeo, STN product marketing manager, and T.J. Bowen, STN marketing and development manager. Especially of interest to patent searchers, Version One of the new STN provides a number of enhancements, all aimed at searcher convenience and productivity.

Speed: Response times and search processes are much faster, a feature favorably noted by beta–testers. In my experience, throughout the history of online searching, time charges for time spent by searchers have exceeded any searching usage fees charged by the vendors.

Combined file searching: The CAplus File (the Chemical Abstracts file with bibliographic, indexing, and abstract content) and the CAS REGISTRY File (the CAS file of chemical structures, nomenclature, and other compound data) can be searched simultaneously in combination. Alternatively, either file can be designated to be searched individually.

Query highlighting: Those portions of the query that appear in the results are highlighted. Query highlighting in structure search results is a new STN feature introduced in Version One that will save structure searchers considerable time in both intra- and post-search analysis. The content of the MARPAT is not currently available in the new STN platform. However, query highlighting is available for text searching and for chemical structure searches in the Registry and DCR files (as shown in the screen shot). (MARPAT files allow searching and retrieval of the potentially massive substructures—Markush structures—with widely varying substitution—“R” groups.)

Enhanced limits: The STN development staff prefers to describe the capabilities as “virtually limitless,” although some beta-testers described it as having "no limits." Always increasing throughout the life time of the STN platform, there have always been limits in various search parameters: saved searches, number of expand terms, number of items transferable, etc. To quote from the press release, “In developing the new platform, STN has focused on using the best available technology to push these limits and maximize search power for users.”

Workflow verus sessions: Previously, each search session stood by itself and subsequent sessions on the same topic (aka project) could usually be related only through prior planning (saved searches, saved output, etc.). In Version One of the new STN, subsequent searches—in different sessions—for the same research project can be incorporated as such. Also, the new STN interface enables simultaneity between query building and results. These user-workflow analysis-based enhancements allow users to optimize both system utility and searcher efficiency.

Integrated help: The web-based interface of new STN provides extended help functionality, including integrated how-to videos and printable Quick Reference Cards. (As a veteran searcher, I can testify to the desirability of having such search aids available as part of the search session.) Future plans include eventual incorporation of much of the detailed documentation that fills searcher’s bookshelves (in my case, seven shelf-feet).

In addition to future enhancements already cited, full-text patent files and additional search fields are planned for incorporation in 2013. Both platforms will be running side-by-side for some time as new STN functionality and content are added in future versions. “Classic” STN will not be totally replaced for some time.

The screenshot shows (on the left) the new STN structure editor with a query drawing of a beta-lactam and the resulting Registry File answers with query highlighting in red. Note the integrated and simultaneous query and results processes (no more offline drawing and uploading of structure queries). STN also notes that this prolific query will not run to completion in the classic STN system due to system iteration limits. However, the successful run on new STN further demonstrates that systems enhanced power.

It should be obvious that this new search platform will enhance the efficiency and convenience of all STN users and not just patent searchers. My thanks to Tina and T.J. for their assistance in preparing this article.

Bob Buntrock is a (semi)retired chemist and informationspecialist living in glorious Maine. A veteran of the online revolution and wars, he reviews books and writes on a number of topics.

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