Patently obvious

February 18, 2000

A free patent search service for academic and industrial researchers is being made available on the internet by the European Patent Organisation, writes Kam Patel.

Kathrina Maes of the Vienna-based EPO said the facility, esp@cenet, offers access to more than 30 million patents and is ideal for researchers who want to do a preliminary search of filed patents and published applications.

But, she warned: "It should not be used as a substitute for professional searches, which are much more reliable. It is pretty sophisticated, but you have to be very good at using its search facilities to get near to professional methods. It is very useful for researchers who want to know what patenting activity is taking place in their field."

The facility consists of databases covering European and non-European patent applications published over the past two years by national offices and the World Intellectual Property Organisation. It also offers access to the European Patent Office's database - a comprehensive collection of patent abstracts published worldwide since 1970.

Features include a query page covering the 19 EPO member states, giving users the same access to patent documents regardless of language. Search results, including titles and abst-racts, are presented in English.

The patents are organised according to the internationally agreed system that divides technical domains into more than 60,000 sub-divisions. Ms Maes said this is particularly useful as it enhances the user's ability to carry out an exhaustive search in specific fields.

The service will soon offer users a "shopping basket" facility, allowing them to order full paper copies of chosen documents. Currently, printing can only be carried out page by page.

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