USPTO Designates New PTDL, But What About Online?

By Gene Quinn
October 25, 2009

The United States Patent and Trademark Office a few days ago announced the designation of the Ryan-Matura Library of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, as a Patent and Trademark Depository Library (PTDL). The patent and trademark depository library program began in 1871 when federal law first provided for the distribution of printed patents to libraries for use by the public. The addition of the Ryan-Matura Library to the PTDL network makes a total of 82 libraries located in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, but why is the is the US Federal Government continuing to support the PTDL initiative and why are they continuing to add PTDLs? The stated purpose of the PTDL program is to assist business, innovators and inventors, presumably by having resources nearby in a local facility, thereby bringing the resources and information of the Patent and Trademark Office to every region.  But why?  With the growth and popularity of a global communications network called by many “the Internet” it would seem that there are far better ways to make the information resources of the USPTO accessible by everyone.  Call me crazy, but if Google can figure out how to make most US patents full text searchable, shouldn’t the USPTO be able to figure it out as well?

First, many are going to question the last sentence above, so let me take care of that presently.  The Google database of patents is not complete.  The Google search interface is extremely fast, but it is lacking in terms of scope.  I have periodically been searching for a specific patent by number, and a patent that I know exists, only to have the Google patent search unable to retrieve the patent or any information.  I am not the only one I know who has experienced this, most patent attorneys I know have similar stories.  On top of that, it takes many months for an issued patent to be included within the Google database.  Additionally, the Google patent search does not offer field searching, which is really critical if you are going to use text base searching and hope to find relevant references.  So while Google patent search good in many ways, it is unreliable for professionals and serious inventors.

Notwithstanding the above, the Google patent database demonstrates what can be done, so why not do it?  The USPTO searchable database has patents dating all the way back to 1976, which if you are searching in some areas of technology that is fine, but for many technologies and fields of invention, particularly for those areas where independent inventors work, this is just not enough.  Pretty much every generation re-invents many of the same things, and independent inventors are always surprised by what can be found if you know how and where to look.

According to the USPTO PTDL Overview page:

Many states value the presence of a PTDL because it is a rich local resource for small businesses, research and development firms, university and governmental laboratories, and independent inventors and entrepreneurs. An active PTDL brings the newest technology in the form of patents to myriad potential users in a city, state or entire region. Patents also provide a unique body of scientific and technical literature that adds value and stature to a library’s collection. Access to trademark information provides a service in high demand by local businesses. The availability of high quality patent and trademark information services often attracts new communities of library users with the potential for new sources of library support.

There is no doubt, PTDLs are impressive, maintaining complete collections of over 8 million patents and nearly 2 million active or pending trademark registrations, as well as other related information in various print and electronic media.  But wouldn’t it be better to have this information online?  After all, the Patent Office is supposed to be on of the most important collections of scientific knowledge in the United States, so surely they can figure out how to do what Google did, but only without the gaps and with the necessary field searching capabilities.

In the press release announcing the latest addition to the PTDL family, USPTO Director David Kappos said: “Even though the great majority of patent and trademark information is available electronically, the PTDL at Sacred Heart University will be of great value to its patrons in helping them know what to look for and how to use it.”  Perhaps Kappos is still to new on the job to know, and perhaps in his role as Vice President of IBM he didn’t have any reason to know, but the much of patent information available electronically to the public through the Internet is so unusable as to be practically laughable. Searchable on the USPTO website is US Patent No. 3,930,271 through whatever is the latest issued patents. If the USPTO is going to use US Patent No. 3,930,270 and earlier against inventors then they should be available to be searched via the Internet, period.

According to the press release:

USPTO’s patent and trademark depository library program is a nationwide network of public, state, special, and academic libraries authorized to disseminate patent and trademark information and to support inventors, intellectual property attorneys and agents, business people, researchers, entrepreneurs, students, historians and the general public who are not able to come to USPTO’s offices in Alexandria, Va.

This all sounds wonderful, but I can’t be the only one who notices that more people would more easily be able to access this information if it were available on the Internet. If the goal is to disseminate information and allow people to use it, why not harness the power of the Internet? If you were to harness the power of the Internet and put all patent and trademark information online and make it searchable you would turn every computer with Internet access the equivalent of a PTDL, and every library in the country that has computers available to access the Internet would become PTDLs, and would provide resources for those who do not live in Alexandria, VA, or within an easy commute to the 82 communities where there are PTDLs.

In any event, congratulations to Ryan-Matura Library of Sacred Heart University. Until the USPTO really develops an Internet dissemination strategy having PTDLs around the country is important and worthwhile. So if you are in the area, a grand opening celebration will be held at the library in Fairfield on October 26 at 11:30 am.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and founder of IPWatchdog.com. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and an attorney with Widerman Malek. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 17 Comments comments.

  1. Pissed off Programmer October 25, 2009 11:57 pm

    -Gene

    Here is a thought, let’s say, hypothetically that Google has or could get a patent for some mundane technique used in their patent search service, and then wanted to deny the USPTO from a license and that became a reason why the USPTO couldn’t adopt a system like you would want, and then everybody would be stuck with Google only for online searches for the next 20 years?

    I mean, that would be reasonable right? After all, Google would have come up with the idea first, and without the carrot from the USPTO they would have had no reason to do research or innovate?

    I hope something like that does happen. I hope the USPTO issues a software patent that comes back to bite them in the ass. You people just can’t see the forest for the trees. With the exception of a small handful out of thousands and thousands, what good are software patents after 20 years. What is the last 20 year old program you used? I suppose the original Nintendo should be out of patent by now, guess I’ll get right to work putting that patent to good use, except that it is 19 years to old to be of any use to anybody.

  2. Jim October 26, 2009 4:27 am

    Does freepatentsonline have the same issues with missing patents that you experienced with the google patent search? I have been using freepatentsonline and have noticed that if I search for phrases rather than just key words, it misses A LOT of patents that should be in the results. There was a message warning me of this though.

    Are there any other good patent search software programs that I might look into? I only need to use such software a few times a year.

  3. Alan McDonald October 26, 2009 1:32 pm

    The USPTO made a VERY bad deal many years ago with a contractor so they could get the patents into digital form.

    As I remember the deal, the PTO was banned from offering full patent documents electromically, but got it changed so they could offer a page at a time as long as they didn’t offer full documents at one time.

    Don’t know if this restriction still exists, but if I’m correct, the contractor “owns” the electronic files, not the PTO.

    This was such a bad deal the the PTO doesn’t like to talk about it and just says it would be too difficult to offer patents in formats like pdf that everyone else does.

  4. George Mason October 26, 2009 1:34 pm

    Gene,

    It is possible to still patents on the internet via USPTO though the limits are till 1976… The libraries provide a good value-add in the librarian who can hand-hold the independent inventor and guide them. Serious searchers prefer the EAST system at USPTO (much better than the WEST that is typically found in PTDL). Also, most serious serachers use commercial value-added databases such as those on STN, Questal or from Thomson.

    Google or FreePatentOnline are useful to review a particular PN or do what is know in the industry as a quick and dirty search. If you find what you are looking for than that’s good..If not please pay a searcher $500 for a decent patent search just as you would hire and pay a plumber to fix the leak in your house, Just my $0.02

  5. Gene Quinn October 26, 2009 2:04 pm

    George-

    I cannot argue with what you say. Hiring a patent searcher is money well spent indeed! I also understand the value of having a librarian hold the hand of the independent inventor, that is for sure. The PTDLs also have educational programs for independent inventors, and that is a very good thing.

    Having said this, if I could change the system I would. I would certainly keep the good, but change some things. It seems to me that businesses, attorneys and sophisticated inventors are going to use the Internet for the quick search you mention, and hire a professional searcher after that, so the PTDLs seem to be best value for independent inventors and perhaps small businesses. I think more could be done having the resources online a la Google, and then having video tutorials a la YouTube. You could also have operators standing by for call in support and/or online support via chat, etc. I think having all the patents online and searchable would also make it easier for researchers and historians as well.

    Thanks for contributing.

    -Gene

  6. Gene Quinn October 26, 2009 2:06 pm

    Alan-

    I have heard that same story. I don’t know whether it is true or not, and would love to hear from anyone who has inside information. I will ask around myself as well.

    -Gene

  7. Gene Quinn October 26, 2009 2:11 pm

    Jim-

    I do not think FreePatentOnline has the same issues with missing patents, but like the USPTO the scope of what they have is limited. I think they have a few years more online searchable than does the USPTO, but certainly not all patents.

    What you have encountered is something that I have encountered sometimes over the years. A search of the same exact terms finds less at FreePatentsOnline. It seems to be better than it once was, but not foolproof. For post 1976 patents the USPTO is the best, but actually seeing the images is so difficult and slow that it is hardly worth it.

    If you are going to do your own searching I would recommend using the USPTO to weed through the volumes, then either Google or FreePatentsOnline to view the patents and images. I think using each is probably the best way to go, and if you are going to do a search online definitely use Google patents to find older stuff that simply cannot be found using the USPTO or FreePatentsOnline. When you do a search you are looking for about the 80% solution anyway. Of course, if you have an invention that really matters there is no substitute for a professional search.

    Anyway, take a look at some searching tips at:

    http://www.ipwatchdog.com/patent/patent-searching/

    Thanks.

    -Gene

  8. Gene Quinn October 26, 2009 2:17 pm

    POP-

    The US government can take and use any patented invention they like and they only have to pay a reasonable royalty. Lost profits cannot be obtained from the federal government.

    Us people can see the forest for the trees thank you very much. It is YOU people who ignore what is obvious on its face. Almost NO patents last 20 years from the filing date. The overwhelming majority of patents fall into the public domain for failure to pay either the first or second maintenance fee payment, so most patents last no more than 8 years.

    What YOU people don’t understand is that your understanding of patent law is so limited and what you do believe you “know” is so wrong that you argue points that are pure nonsense. The trouble with most anti-software patent advocates is that they are lazy and rather than inform themselves about the law and what they can do they prefer to just do away with patents altogether. That is nonsense, will not happen and the lazy are the ones who complain. If you and others are so lazy that you don’t care what reality is why would anyone care about patents blocking you?

    -Gene

  9. Pissed Off Programmer October 26, 2009 4:34 pm

    -Gene

    How convenient for the government that they don’t have to abide by the same laws as everybody else. As a matter of fact I have taken great lengths to learn about intellectual property law, and contrary to what it looks like I am not on the far nutty fringe. I have read all of the copyright law, all ungodly hundreds of pages of it and special attachments and amendments, and I have come to the conclusion that it is very reasonable and provides adequate protection for non-material creative works. I’ve read as much of the patent codes as I can find, read blogs and website articles like yours, and try to stay informed about court decisions.

    Not everybody has time to become a patent lawyer, some of us have work to do. I think I have gone farther than most in researching my opinions.

    The fact that most patents don’t’ make it the full 20 years just shows how worthless they were in the first place and only goes to strengthen my argument. Patent advocates want their cake and eat it to. What benefit does patents really give anyways? The way I see it, patents are supposed to encourage people to share research and innovation so that everybody can have access to it, after allowing them a limited monopoly of course. If that were the way things actually worked then I wouldn’t be complaining, but it isn’t. Instead they give out patents for things like embedded advertisements in operating systems.

    What about that requirement about workers of average skill not being capable of coming up with the idea? Are they seriously going to suggest that it took research to come up with that idea, and that anybody, not just technology people, couldn’t’ have seen it or had the idea? Are they really going to suggest that it is even innovation of any kind? What a joke.

  10. Gene Quinn October 26, 2009 5:49 pm

    POP-

    You are right. The fact that you have a day job and are not a patent lawyer means that you should be allowed to pontificate erroneously on subjects you do not understand. My bad.

    What benefits do patent give us? They provide incentive for rich people and wealthy corporations to engage in speculative activity that would otherwise not happen. Pretty straight forward really.

    You keep speaking as if ideas are patentable, which is clearly not the case. So coming up with ideas is not an act of innovation. Anyone can come up with ideas. Implementation is another story altogether, but of course you chose to remain uninformed and act like an idea is equivalent to successful description of an invention that can be built and used. Whether you ever choose to accept it or not, there is a vast different between an idea and implementation.

    You say: “What a joke.”

    Reply: What is really a joke, and quite sad, is that you refuse to let facts get in the way of preventing you from making an erroneous statement. You say that advertising embedded in an operating system is patented. If you actually read that article, rather than just skim it and get all worked up you would realize that no patent has been issued yet, it is only a patent application. You really make it too easy for me when you clearly identify to everyone that your opinions are formed not on facts or reality, but on not understanding the issues and not even reading to inform yourself.

    -Gene

  11. Just visiting October 26, 2009 10:43 pm

    “What about that requirement about workers of average skill not being capable of coming up with the idea?”

    Again, stick to stuff you know. To paraphrase, the invention should not be obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art. Being “capable of coming up with the idea” is far different from the idea being obvious. I doubt that 1% of the patents in the mechanical arts are things that an engineer of average skill would not have been capable of coming up with. However, that isn’t the standard.

    How many times have you heard something to the effect “hey, I thought of that 6 years ago”? You don’t have to be a patent attorney to have heard the same thing. However, the intent of patent laws is to encourage disclosure of ideas. The person that “thought of that 6 years ago” never told anybody, so the public, as a whole, did not benefit until 6 years later when somebody actually got a patent, which necessarily requires a public disclosure.

    “Instead they give out patents for things like embedded advertisements in operating systems.”
    I have been dabbling (on and off) in programming for about 35 years, and embedding advertisements in operating systems (and a whole host of other ideas) would have been crazy talk even 15 years ago. Everything looks easy in hindsight — even to the actual inventors. However, if was was that “easy” the ideas would have been disclosed 5, 10, 15 years before then.

    “The fact that most patents don’t’ make it the full 20 years just shows how worthless they were in the first place and only goes to strengthen my argument.”
    If the patents are “worthless,” then why are you btch’n and moan’n?

    If you were a student of the history of innovation, you would have come across a concept, embodied in a couple quotes by famous inventors, which goes something like this “if you want to have a good idea, have lots of ideas.” Like the evolution of species, many inventions end up being on a dead-end path. As such, many patents don’t last their full term because the patent owner decides that the technology is obsolete or will never been used for one reason or another. However, for every 10 ideas that go nowhere, there is that million dollar (or multi-,multi-million dollar) idea that changes the industry.

    The fact that a number of patents go expired says nothing about the patent system, as a whole. Instead, it just confirms that many ideas don’t pan out.

  12. Pissed Off Programmer October 27, 2009 9:06 am

    -Gene

    “What benefits do patent give us? They provide incentive for rich people and wealthy corporations to engage in speculative activity that would otherwise not happen. Pretty straight forward really.

    You keep speaking as if ideas are patentable, which is clearly not the case. So coming up with ideas is not an act of innovation. Anyone can come up with ideas. Implementation is another story altogether,”

    You pretty much said everything there is to say right there. I agree with you about the differences between ideas and implementation. The problem I have is that if you come up with your own implementation then often times it is still prohibited even if it isn’t done the same way because of the broad way the patent is granted. Other times there are only a few ways to do a thing and the solution is obvious but the patent is granted on a first come first serve basis because the USPTO doesn’t understand software.

    If I didn’t use the patented implementation, then what is the problem? Look at Amazon’s one click patent. I realize this is the poster boy for my click but seriously. I am sure that Barnes and Noble didn’t use any of the source code or algorithms from Amazon, but their implementation must have been similar because the technical foundation that makes it possible is common to every website of the time, and still to websites today. At that point Amazon should have tried to patent the “cookie”, just because you say, oh and by the way we are going to use the cookie to identify shipping and billing information is hardly an invention. That would be like patenting the use of a phone to contact people for marketing. Maybe if I use my knife to cut steak instead of just pork that is an invention too?

    I have run into this situation where I sat for several hours creating an algorithm only to find it later in almost the exact same fashion in a text book or reference. Several hours is hardly non-obvious, and even though I would like to think I am a genius, I am not. The reason those algorithms are made available is for convenience, not because the average programmer couldn’t have come up with on their own. I didn’t need that algorithm disclosed to me to figure it out, because the nature of the problem leaves few solutions I came up with the same one.

    And this is the life of a programmer or would be start up. Which one of the obvious algorithms or implementations am I going to get sued over because the people at the USPTO are morons.

  13. Gene Quinn October 27, 2009 9:59 am

    POP-

    You say: “You keep speaking as if ideas are patentable, which is clearly not the case.”

    Obviously you have turned to the disingenuous attack. Everyone knows, including you, that I never said that, never implied that and to the contrary it has been YOU who continually assert that ideas are patentable.

    You say: “Look at Amazon’s one click patent.”

    I have, have you? Please enlighten all of us and articulate exactly why that patent and the technology disclosed is not new or is obvious. Seriously, I cannot wait. I am anxiously awaiting no analysis and ridiculous generalizations that demonstrate that you have not read the patent, couldn’t be bothered to actually figure it out, you know nothing about patent law and decided to just form an opinion without educating yourself. Really, if programmers don’t want to figure it out themselves and they don’t want to hire an attorney to give them advice they get what they deserve. There is an appropriate way to do business and those that bitch and moan about patents simply are not sophisticated business people, or they have a hidden agenda.

    You say: “And this is the life of a programmer or would be start up. Which one of the obvious algorithms or implementations am I going to get sued over because the people at the USPTO are morons.”

    So how many times have you been sued? Wait, I know the answer… ZERO! You should stick to writing about things that you know about. I sure hope for your sake you know more about programming than you do about patent law.

    -Gene

  14. Pissed Off Programmer October 27, 2009 11:28 am

    -Gene

    The part in quotations was an exact quote copied and pasted off one of your comments on this page. In fact it is comment #11 paragraph number 3, so I don’t know where you are getting this disingenuous attack argument from, or maybe you don’t understand how quotation marks work.

    And despite what you think I have read the patent, even though I have better things to do with my time. The point I was trying to make is that these things are written in ways that no implementation can avoid them. They use a lot of words like “storing”, “sorting”, “combines”, “displays”, “identifier”, “client”, “component”. None of these things are specific and certainly not technical. It doesn’t say for example, a uniquely assigned 32 bit integer number is stored on a client computer in a binary file which is encrypted using xxx algorithm and then… blah blah blah.

    You asked how many times I have been sued, and you are correct zero. I write in house software at my job and I don’t worry about patents at work, but I would like to start my own software company one day. I have read books on Intellectual property and software, I read blogs and journals like yours, I try to read as much of the law as possible in the time I have.

    I do worry about software patents ruining any future business plans that I may have. I have some protection because I would be a small fish in a big pond, but as soon as any major software vendor felt threatened, and I should be so lucky, I would have to worry constantly about legal action, justified or not, which could kill a small company even if it gets thrown out. I don’t have the influence of Microsoft to get special intervention if I get sued to keep selling my product, and I don’t have a huge patent portfolio to bribe off my competitors. Nobody is safe, just look at Microsoft Word and that whole mess, which I’m sure you are more familiar with than I am since it is your job. I had never even heard of i4i before that case and had no idea they had xml patents.

  15. Gene Quinn October 27, 2009 4:00 pm

    POP-

    I know where you quoted me from, but then you went on to say that it sounded like I was saying ideas are patentable, which is dishonest and you know it.

    If you keep up your lies, being dishonest and disingenuous I will ban you from commenting. If you don’t like that then don’t come back. If you cannot keep it honest and real then you are not welcome to participate.

    If you would like to start your own software company some day you need to realize the power of patents and stop complaining. Use them as a tool. Even if you don’t like them use them to your advantage. If you have a software company and you have no patents you are a target and you will get sued. Software patents are almost never enforced because so many of them are invalid. Only the little players sue the big players. When the big players sue it is because the little players don’t have anything to fight back with.

    Most software patents are invalid on their face. If you want to allow mistakes of the Patent Office to keep you from doing something you are otherwise entitled to do then go right ahead.

    -Gene