Structured searches: one stop patent examination

Dealing with everything from chemical compounds to smartphones, patent examiners are the gatekeepers of innovation; tasked with ensuring only high quality, valid patents are granted.

The volume of patent applications filed globally has been steadily increasing, year-on-year, since 2009. In 2018, innovators worldwide submitted 3.3 million patent applications, 5.2% more than the previous year.[1] The global economy is increasingly driven by technological advances, and with the current global crisis due to COVID-19 further pushing innovation in the medical sector, it seems almost certain that 2020 will see another record year for IP administration. Whilst this is encouraging news for global development, it signals a very different knock-on-effect for patent examination.

Every examination begins in the same way – with a ‘search’. With every new patent filed, the search criteria for new applications widens, and examiners’ jobs get harder. Not only are there more searches to complete now than there were ten years ago; the choice of tools and systems available has also multiplied. While these searches can be done at low to no-cost, utilising a number of disparate platforms, financial gains almost always come at the expense of quality and increased time spent on each application.

Examiners must choose from an ever-expanding range of database resources to provide them with accurate data. Establishing the quality and coverage of a given service is the principal challenge of conducting intellectual property searches on both free internet and commercial databases. Free providers (Espacenet, Google Patents) lack value-add content such as quality translations, special subject indexing fields, enhanced abstracts and data corrections. Moreover, they are slower to update; feature frustrating search menus; have missing records; and return errors caused by case sensitivity and misspellings. While these standalone databases are still useful tools, their results need to be verified with other sources to ensure total accuracy – extending application process times that are already stretched.

“… higher productivity demands, increasingly complex patent applications and an ever-expanding body of relevant patent and non-patent literature have reached such a level that, unless serious measures are taken, meaningful protection of intellectual property throughout the world may, itself, become history.”[2]

That quote comes from an open letter dated April 13, 2007, from a “Coalition of Patent Examiner Representatives” to the heads of the US, European, German, Canadian and Austrian patent offices, voicing their fears for “the Future of the Patent System”. Thirteen years may have passed since they sent that letter, but their words are only more relevant today. With escalating demands still placed on examiners, an effective solution must be found to not only safe-guard efficiency and well-being in examination work; but to also protect the development of technological and medical advancement:

“History shows that a strong patent system is essential to the health and economic well-being of nations. Patents stimulate innovation and economic growth by motivating inventors to invent and to share their inventions with the world.”[2]

With Dialog® you can accurately search a wide range of dependable multi-disciplinary information– prior art and non-patent literature inclusive. With such a wealth of information available in a single space – combining forward and backward citations and non-patent literature searches– examiners can enjoy a streamlined “one and done” approach to patent investigation.

This blog forms an excerpt taken from our latest whitepaper: The False Economy in Patent Searching. 



[1] WIPO (2019). World Intellectual Property Indicators 2019. Geneva: World Intellectual Property Organization.

[2] Open Letter From a Coalition of Patent Examiner Representatives – Re: The Future of the Patent System, April 13, 2007