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There are large gaps in the data available on global patents, and countries signed up to the Patent Cooperation Treaty are not being active in addressing the problem, as Willem Lagemaat of Lighthouse IP reports.
The world is defined by standards. Thanks to technical standards we have matching bolts and nuts, power plugs that fit and many other daily things we don’t even think about. Next to these strict and well documented standards, there are industry standards, which are defined by generally accepted requirements or norms in a particular industry.
In the patent information world, the standard is set by DOCDB/INPADOC (DI), a dataset gathered from many different patent authorities, and brought together by the European Patent Office (EPO). This complex dataset offers content from 106 different countries and contains more than 100 million patent records. The DOCDB part covers bibliographic information and patent family information, the INPADOC (International Patent Documentation) part provides data on the status of a patent.
With DI, the patent information industry has its standard for access to the world’s patent publications and it is used widely.
Gaps in completeness
When a closer look at this dataset is taken, it becomes clear that it is far from perfect. Of the 106 listed authorities, six no longer exist although they are still relevant for the state of the art; this leaves the dynamic corpus of DI covering only 100 countries. Of the 100 countries covered, only around 50 supply more or less regular updates, implying that information from the other 50 countries is not regularly updated, is incomplete, or is not updated at all.
Hence, the global patent information standard of 106 countries actually covers just 50 countries. For all patent information users, this should be of serious concern, because one cannot afford to miss out on any relevant patent out there.
"It is safe to say that there are more than 100 authorities in which it is not possible to assess whether a patent is still in force."
One hypothesis of patent searching is that if an invention is relevant enough, it will show up in a patent family search. Another typical assumption is that most important inventions will be filed in the US. However, according to Lighthouse IP analysis, 75% of all global patent families (where a patent family is defined as at least having one member in another country) do not have a US family member. If you combine this fact with the increasing number of national-only patent filings, it becomes apparent that the risk of missing out on a significant number of patent records in a search using DI data only is rather high.
In the global patent landscape, there are 152 Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) contracting states. Each of those offices has a publication method. Although they are PCT contracting states, it does not necessarily mean that all national filings become PCT filings. Initial calculations (based on World Intellectual Property Organization [WIPO] statistics and national office publications) show that between 60,000 and 100,000 inventions being patented (applied for) somewhere in the world do not show up in any of the major authorities.
In addition, these patent applications are not filed in any other countries. So, to get a truly global perspective, all 152 PCT contracting states should be providing information on their publications jointly and centrally.
Quality of patent information
Apart from the incompleteness of DI, there is another challenge to the current standard: the poor quality of the information. The EPO is dependent on all the states to provide their data. The quality of the data provided by the individual states varies widely. This results in data quality issues, as the various parties involved have not harmonised their processes.
This lack of quality in many authorities is known by most people in the industry, but it is accepted that DI is still the best information source. However, in an industry that is dependent on the availability of prior art, this should not be acceptable to any serious user of patent information.
Due to the political agenda of several authorities, there is only passive participation in the patent information dissemination process. The information is available in the national office, but not actively distributed elsewhere. According to our experience, some countries’ patent offices even wonder why non-residents have an interest in their publications and think interested professionals are attempting to steal their IP.
Another challenge is the availability of status information on patents: eg, is it still active? INPADOC provides regularly updated status information on only about 40 authorities. Hence, it is safe to say that there are more than 100 authorities in which it is not possible to assess whether a patent is still in force.
Even more concerning is that for WIPO, it is unclear for a significant number of countries what the status is of the national phase of a patent application under the PCT.
The patent information landscape covers almost 152 authorities. Of those, bibliographic information is available from some 50 authorities. For most of these 50, some form of status information is available. This leaves approximately 100 authorities that searchers are currently not well informed about, nor are they able to search them.
A considerable effort will be required before all patent applications and granted patents are available for anyone interested in obtaining the information, at the desired level of quality. As not all PCT-contracting states actively participate in closing these gaps, it will be necessary for non-governmental organisations to source the information from each of the contracting states and turn this into one truly global patent information dataset.
This is vital, as the currently non-visual patent applications and publications undermine the patent system altogether.
Willem Lagemaat is the CEO of Lighthouse IP, a provider of IP data. Lagemaat has been active in the industry since 1993, when he joined the family business Univentio. He has also played an active role in representing the interests of the patent information industry as president at Patcom. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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