Patent search quality - a concern for more than patent examiners

September 15th 2018 "Patent quality has fallen, confirm Euro examiners" claimed an article in a few months ago after the publication of a letter written by a group of 1000 European patent examiners. Personally I have too much respect for EPO patent examiners to ever think the same, but there is no doubt that patent search quality remains a concern of patent examiners all around the world. And indeed the concern of patent searchers, attorneys, patent owners etc, all whom have to deal with the consequences of poor search results - such as unwise patent protection, excessively broad patents granted, and commercial decision to develop new technologies based on incomplete information about prior art.

But what exactly is 'patent search quality'?

I think that the concept of 'patent search’ should be understood for most readers of this blog.

'Quality' though is worth thinking about.  Many people associate quality with cost, but I think that there is more to quality than high cost. 

Consider, for example, the highly regarded (if just superseded) and highly priced, Apple iPhone X.  Maybe we could compare this to the also popular Motorola Moto G5 phone:

Apple 10x.gif
Motorola phone.gif

 Note that both phones have an average product review of 4.5 stars, yet the phone on the right is around one tenth of the price of the phone on the right.

These star ratings show that most users are satisfied with both phones -  because in their minds, their phones are of good 'quality' - or as defined by ISO standard 900:2015 (en)

Quality =  'degree to which a set of inherent characteristics of an object fulfils requirements'    (which we could simplify to 'fitness for purpose')

In the case of the different phones, the two different groups of shoppers probably had different requirements - for example status, brand and an advanced feature set for the iPhone, vs price and sufficient features for the money for the Motorola phone.


OK, so what does this have to do with patent searching? It suggests that quality is to do with meeting requirements - and cost can be one of these requirements, for some users at least. So a patent search system not only has to find the best possible results, but also do within the cost constraints of the search.

So how well is does conventional patent searching meeting these objectives?

Is conventional searching alone a ‘high quality’ approach?

By far the most common patent searching technique is to look for patent that contain a target set of keywords, and/or patent classification codes, using a filtering approach. I am sure that most readers are familiar with this approach, and the hours and hours of reviewing patents that this can lead to. 

But this is a 'high quality' approach?

This depends on your perspective. Because it is the recognised industry standard approach, a lot of searchers feel safe relying on this method alone, in the same way that there used to be a saying in the IT world: 'No one every got fired for buying IBM'.

But when did you, or the company you work for, last buy IBM?

This is not to knock the still very successful IBM and its products, but merely to point that the days when computing meant IBM have long gone. Computing is a lot more than this, and we are all better off for it.


Can AI help improve search quality?

There remains an important place for traditional keyword and class code searching - but AI search tools can complement and extend the results from conventional searching.

Like Google searching for websites, AI based patent searching can quickly and 'magically' find you relevant websites.  A number of different options are available for AI searching, including Ambercite Ai which can have a very hit rate for finding relevant patents. In in most cases AI approaches are designed to be very simple to use, and to be used alongside traditional searching methods - because no one technique may give you the perfect results. And they can be very cost-effective because they can produce a ranked list of results that are efficient to review. 

But is this ‘quality’ searching?

I would say, “Yes”. Quality is fitness for purpose - and the purpose of patent searching is to find relevant patents, not to run a patent search process the way it has always been run. By using a range of methods including AI patent searching, you can increase your change of finding relevant patents, and so meet your purpose - and improve the quality of your search.

“Fitness for Purpose” should also consider the cost of the search. Traditional searching can be very time consuming and expensive. Outsourcing this searching can be an option, but this can lead to delays and misunderstandings. In contrast, AI based searching can provide instant results from the comfort and privacy of your own desk.

However in reality, the choice between keyword and AI searching is a false dichotomy, like the choice between say laptops and smartphones. Instead both have their distinct advantage, and it is the combination that provides you with full utility - and this is increasingly been recognised by the sophisticated patent searchers who use a range of approaches to provide high results to their clients at a competitive price, rather than just relying on traditional methods alone.


Are you looking to advance your search quality?

Contact us for an informative demonstration of our premier AI search tool Ambercite AI  - or signup online to use our trial version (some limitations apply in the trial version). Discover why some of the world's leading patent owners and analysts use Ambercite to strengthen the quality of their patent searches.


Mike Lloyd