Report:Google Patent Search/Usability

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The following section contains subjective comments about the system that represent our editor's opinions, and should not be viewed as fact. Editor's opinions include positive and negative judgments about the product written in consideration of wider context, including related products and the industry at large. Further subjective information is presented in clearly labeled "Editor's Notes" throughout the report.

Google Patent Search is designed primarily for web surfers and first-time or casual users of patent information. As a consequence it is very easy for anyone with basic web searching experience to use. No knowledge of even the most basic Boolean operators is required, as the advanced search form provides a wizard for users with no background in search query construction to create targeted queries. The tradeoff here is that search queries with truncation and proximity operators are not supported, leaving the truly advanced professional searchers without needed tools.

From an interface standpoint, the design of the system is good. The record display pages are fairly intuitive, and the patent summary page still provides an easy-to-skim overview despite a slight step backwards with the last update. The system also provides numerous hyperlinks to various portions of the patent documents, which boosts efficiency by allowing users to quickly jump to the information of interest. One failure, also discussed in the Viewing Patent Full Text and Images section of this article, is that the “Search within this patent” bar does tend to malfunction when multiple searches are performed on it (sometimes the highlighting fails to update). This glitch was an obstacle to the author of this article in understanding how this feature works, and it may frustrate other new users of the system.

The excellent speed of the system is a feature that promotes its usability. The system loads the full patent images into web pages very quickly, and probably beats even the most expensive subscription services by a wide margin. This boosts browsing efficiency tremendously.

On the other hand, the cracks in the system’s data coverage are obviously a negative, as they affect how the tool can be used. Without current US and international classification data, yet another important tool used by professional searchers is unavailable.

One further criticism of the system is that it provides very little guidance on patent information for first time users (for example, it does not explain the origins of classification and citation data). Although the system is designed for casual users, it does not provide any background information for those users to educate themselves, a function which should be an important aspect of any first-time patent search gateway. Google Patent Search failure to do this also reflects on how much the system developers might actually know about searching patents as a special art.

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