AusPat: The electrodes have been applied and the sparks are flying

IP Australia’s full text searching shocked from the beta phase to go live.

It may be a little unfair to compare AusPat to Frankenstein’s monster, but IP Australia has taken us from the days of PatAdmin with AU-A, B, C Patent Specifications attached, stitching on Patsearch, all held together with a bit of APPS, to produce the wealth of information that is AusPat (now with access to the complete text of Australian specifications back to 1904), IP Australia have breathed life into their creation. In this article we look a little more closely at some of the newer features.

One useful feature is the ability to switch on and off the one or two line reference to the context of a text search result. Switching off provides the condensed format for the search results as seen in earlier versions of AusPat, while the default switched on view also has direct links to the relevant specification.

Specifications available through the AU-A, B, C Patent Specifications interface have been separated out into their component pieces as well as being in their complete form. These pieces: Full Document, Abstract, Description and Claims, have each been represented in new search fields. These are historical divisions of the specification and are useful for a user who is wishing to read the document, but in terms of searching there is little difference between the description and the whole document. It would be extremely rare that one would search for a reference specifically in the description but not in the claims. Searching using the Full Specification field (FS) should be used in preference to the Description field (DS). The Abstract field (AB) and Claims field (CS) will be useful in helping find specific references, providing better results sets for infringement searches and in the development of complex search strategies.

There are three other text search fields available. These fields are DKA, DKB and DKC, and allow a user to search in particular document kind published by IP Australia. It is debatable whether these fields have any great utility. Using DKC may allow a user to ensure that amendments made have or have not taken a patent outside the scope of their endeavours. Likewise using DKB may be of use in restricting the set of potential results to those applications that have been sealed at some stage in their life such as for an infringement or freedom to operate search.  However, you may find that the Application Status field (ST) works just as well, especially in combination with the Publication Action Code (AT) where you can limit inactive status to a time frame to include applications such as those that ceased within the last 12 months for example. Searching within a particular document kind seems to be unnecessarily restrictive for most types of search.

During the beta phase the full text of Australian specifications from 1976 to 1999 wasn’t available, which made it impossible to conduct infringement or freedom-to-operate searches that made use of the full capabilities of AusPat because of the requirement to go back at least 20 years (25 years for pharmaceutical cases). Now that all of the specifications are available it is likely more use will be made of these capabilities for infringement searches by removing some of the need to search full text databases that cover other jurisdictions such as the United States, and then look for Australian equivalents.

The two new operators are good additions to the text searching capabilities. Both the proximity operator “/n/” and the “followed by” operator “…” will allow for a more focussed search. The number of search results located will be fewer than that generated using the “AND” operator, which will enable the searcher to perform a broader search using more keywords for the same overall number of hits, or to review the smaller number of hits obtained more thoroughly. It’s also possible to string a number of the operators together.

A word of caution is necessary, however, with the use of the “followed by” operator, as it also is with the use of the “NOT” operator. Relevant hits could be excluded when these operators are used. In the case of the “followed by” operator, by way of example, searching the claims of standard applications filed in 2007 for “water … pump” gives 157 hits, whereas “pump … water” gives 231. Similarly when using the “NOT” operator it may be possible to exclude a relevant hit from your search results merely because you attempted to exclude part of the prior art or some aspect of your keywords that was throwing up a large amount of irrelevant material. Those operators can still be used, just use them wisely and ensure that you understand precisely what you are excluding before you do so.

AusPat has many good things going for it, and IP Australia has taken great steps to get it to this level of capability.  As such, it should form part of every searcher’s set of patent information tools.