In patent investigations the major challenge for most IP workers is to know where and how to retrieve up-to-date, high-quality patent as well as patent-related information. Well, for simple searches regarding a known patent number, inventor, assignee, head title, etc. there are already a couple of easy-to-use Internet sources provided by national and international patent authorities. For instance esp@cenet (EPODOC), DEPATISnet and the USPTO databases. These are good places to start the patent investigations of inventions.
But for more complex patent investigations or information research, like technological state-of-the-art and statistical analysis, these free resources do not offer suitable tools for executing efficient and successful patent investigations and searches. In these cases, patent investigations definitely need to consult professional databases provided via database hosts like STN, Lexis-Nexis, Questel-Orbit, Dialog and some more.
These 'database host' is important for patent investigations because they give a whole set of databases by various producers a virtual home. Their major advantages in patent investigations are:
* hosts provide a common searching surface that enables the user to simultaneously search a bundle of selected databases,
* you can always decide yourself which database(s) out of the whole set will be used,
* the data fields are harmonized between the databases,
* the data between different databases are cross linked,
* there is just one bill.
The hosts major disadvantages in patent investigations are that they are not for free. And you need to be trained in their specific retrieval languages when conducting patent investigations online. But these retrieval systems are essential for using the most powerful search and analysis tools. The hosts are already aware of that problem, and they try to win even those customers that are not used to retrieval languages.
What host should you use for patent investigations? Most hosts set priority to a specific filed of information. STN concentrates on scientific and literature information (biotech, pharma, chemistry, engineering, material science, etc.), Dialog on business and market information, and Lexis-Nexis on law and legal information. Interestingly, most hosts offer patent literature as this branch of specialist information is one of the most lucrative. Delphion (formerly IBM patent server, now member of the Thomson Derwent Group) is the only host that offers just patent databases without the option to do cross-research with non-patent databases, but with extensive analysis tools.
You should also have closer look to the type of clearing procedure. With Dialog for example, you pay a flat fee in advance that expires after a year, independently if you used your account or not. Others, like STN Classic, calculate database usage time plus document royalties. Others have no time costs but slightly higher document royalties.