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.