Report:Google Patent Search/Viewing Results/The Hit List

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The Hit List

Once a query is calculated in Google Patent Search, a hit list of results will appear. These results are automatically sorted and ranked by Google’s proprietary ranking method, although they can also be sorted by date, in either ascending or descending order.

The hit list in List mode.

The hits in the list display mode are shown with title, patent number and filing date, along with a very short text excerpt showing the search terms in context. If an excerpt is not available that contains both keywords from an AND phrase (ie such as pet AND collar), a keyword excerpt will be chosen that contains at least one of the keywords of interest (it may be that the first one in the string takes preference, although this has not been confirmed). Users can choose to view issued patents only, applications only, or both.

Cover view display mode is an alternate hit list viewing mode that users can select to display from 30-100 patent thumbnails at once. The thumbnails are taken from the first page of the drawings section of the patent, and as such are not necessarily the representative figure chosen to be on the face of the patent. Users can click on the thumbnails to open the record view.

Google Patent Search has the option to view the hit list as thumbnail images of the first drawing page of each patent.

The hit list is the source of one of the early criticisms of Google’s patent search systems. In the days following the system’s release, it was discovered that the system was limited to returning around 1200 hits, and displaying only about 600 of those. Although not explicitly stated on the help page, those limitations were quickly discovered by patent information professionals, and this type of comparison information abounds in the patent information listserv archives. The oft-cited example is that while the USPTO website returned 17,390 hits with assignee “Xerox,” around the time of its release Google Patent Search returned 1,204 hits.[1]

Today, the system no longer displays any kind of hit count for the query; instead, it simply states that it is displaying hits “1 to 10” of the results set. Following the pages to the very end of the available search hits usually leads to page 60 as the final page, meaning that users can only review the first 600 documents out of any query. (It should be noted that the number 600 was independently determined by a test run by the author as well as by others. However, a May 2007 post on the Google Librarian Central blog asserts that all results of any query can be browsed by continuing to click through to the next ten pages using the navigation tool common to most Google search result pages.[2]) The figure below makes it clear that this browsing capability ends on page 60, which displays results 591-600 of a query on the keyword "Sony." Note that total hit counts are no longer displayed, making any further content comparisons impossible.

A search on keyword Sony can bring up a maximum of 600 results.

It is also worth noting that, as of 2008, US published applications will be displayed in the hit list using their US serial application numbers (e.g. 10/155,083) as document identifiers, rather than the more common publication numbers (e.g. 2005/0087924). See the figure below for an example.

The engine uses eight-digit application numbers to identify US published applications as of mid-2008.

editors note iconEditor's Note:

Although the hit count seems to work perfectly well for Google’s web search engine, apparently Google Patent Search no longer offers this basic feature. Both the failure to report hit counts, and the limit on the number of hits that are returned by a search (to appx 600), are particular disadvantages in the context of prior art searching. This is one more piece of evidence that Google Patent Search was always marketed to the casual patent searcher, and never intended as a primary resource for in-depth searchers.

Keyword-in-context (KWIC) display is available in other patent search tools, so this is not a totally unique feature. Interestingly, compared to the KWIC summaries available from other systems, Google’s are very brief, and are presented in the same style as the hit list from a web search. Although they are still useful for determining relevance at a glance, it might be worth it for Google to allow a few extra sentences to display in their patent search hit lists. This is another instance of the Google developers having more familiarity with web search than patent search concerns.

The thumbnail view offers an alternative browsing style for users. Those searching in the mechanical arts may find that using thumbnail view allows them to quickly rifle through many documents and pick out interesting looking ones for further study. One deficiency in the thumbnail view for the hit list is that the images are taken from the first page of the drawings section, and may not be the representative image shown on the face of the patent.


  1. Buntrock, Robert E."Google Tackles Patent Searching." Information Today Newsbreaks (an e-newsletter service of Information Today, Inc.) January 02, 2007. Accessed October 30, 2007.
  2. Comment to blog post by Banks, Doug. "Google Patent Search wins NYPL Best of Reference 2007 award," blog: Google Librarian Central, comments by user "Librarian Central," May 29, 2007, 11:52 am. Accessed September 18, 2008.
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