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Patents Missing In Action?

:: Dana Roth posted the following to CHMINF-L, something of concern to all patent searchers, and to those of us who advise our users of the importance of searching patents while doing research:

This from the New Scientist

It might seem that the plethora of free online patent databases that now exist should make it easier to check the relevant patent documents, but Willem Geert Lagemaat (World Patent Information, vol 27, p 27) says this is not so. Univentio, the patent-information company he runs in the Netherlands, has discovered that Espacenet, the European online patent database, is missing 322,000 UK Patent Office documents, plus 186,000 and 17,000 patents respectively from the French and German offices.

Some of the missing documents were granted as recently as 2004. "The online archives have gaps simply because the documents were not scanned, either because they were missing or there was an error digitising them," Lagemaat says.
With many libraries now disposing of at least part of their paper archives to save money, it is no longer possible to guarantee that a paper version of every patent exists. People use the web to do the bulk of their patent research for free and only contact archives for the missing patents. "Such low-volume orders do not cover an archive's expenses," Lagemaat says.

The UK Patent Office says it has "no immediate plans" to dispose of its paper archive and is working with the European Patent Office to extend the electronic archive with scanned images of British patents. But as Lagemaat points out, images are of little use in prior-art searches because the text within them is not searchable.

Dana L. Roth

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