How to search for design images using Ambercite

Two real world case stories

In my other role as a patent searcher, I sometimes get asked to do prior art design searches, which is basically looking for very similar and earlier published images. This has happened a couple of times of recently, for an industrial object and then a consumer product, and in both cases Ambercite has been crucial in finding the prior art the client was looking for.

But Ambercite - isn’t that a patent, and not a design database?

We need to talk about design searching…

Searching for prior art for designs is hard - much harder than it should be.

In theory it is simple - run a query in a designs database, and review the results based on visual similarity to the design you are assessing.

The catch is that design databases are not as helpful as they could be. There are two substantive global design databases that I am aware of:

Both offer coverage of a broad number of jurisdictions, including the US, European designs and China. And both can work pretty well, for example for a search based on a known applicant or designer.

Which is fine, but things get a lot harder if you are looking for an object based on its description, for example ‘fridge door handle’. In this situation, one or both of two things can happen:

  • You simply can not find what you are looking for. Many design registrations are accompanied by minimal amounts of descriptive text, so running any form of keyword search brings the serious risk of filtering out relevant patents

  • You end up with thousands or designs to filter through - and in DesignView you are limited to 40 results in a page before needing to refresh, while in Global Design Database you are limited to 30 designs per page.

Admittedly a smart searcher will also search by Locarno classifications. But Locarno classifications are pretty blunt instruments. There is no precise code for fridge door handles - the closest we can find is 08-06 Handles, Knobs and Hinges. And if you run a search for the Locarno Classification 08-06 in the Global Design Database, along with the keyword handle* you end up with 10,818 results to to look through - 30 at a time before you need to refresh the page. In DesignView, a similar search will return 29,000 results. And in both program, sometimes the supplied images are sometimes quite small in size, and can be hard to fully understand.

So what to do?

One left-field option is to search through the IP Australia Australian Design Search database - while limited to Australian designs, it does present its results in a form that is unusually easy to review. It also provides an image based search facility that works quite well.

Or the alternative is to run a patent search. OK, a patent is not a design, but from a prior art viewpoint, this does not matter as long as the images are published. Of course US designs are published as design patents, which are indexed in global patent databases, as this helps. But even putting this aside, there can be great prior art published in patent applications.

However, as with searching through conventional design databases, they were many ‘false positives’ - results returned by your search query that are not relevant to your objectives. There is not a lot you can do about these results, except efficiently scroll through them while keeping any eye for true positives.

How does Ambercite help?

There are of course many patent databases with various strengths and weakness. And of these databases, Ambercite does bring some great features:

  • Low false positive rate. Providing that you are starting with starting patents that are close to what you are looking for, Ambercite will return a set of results that are, compared to any other patent database I have looked at, unusually relevant to look at.

  • Ability to ‘learn’ from from your results. In Ambercite you can ‘promote’ the patents that you foundn and liked into the search box, and then rerun the search. If you do this, Ambercite will return more similar patents, and you can set it up so that you are only reviewing new results in these follow-up searches

  • Great image resolution, and up to 2000 results in a single page. It is easy to scroll through these 2000 results.

2000 results may sound like a lot, but when you have good image resolution, and all 2000 results on a single page, it is more than manageable.

But let me demonstrate this, again returning to fridge door handles.

Case study - search for fridge door handles in Ambercite

Ambercite uses an citation based AI algorithm to find the most similar patents to one or more starting patents. We need starting patents, so in a conventional search database come across US7197792, filed by LG for a Door handle for refrigerator, and also US2008163462A1, filed for a Door handle for refrigerators and/or freezers.

We can enter these two numbers into Ambercite like this:

Fridge handle search.png

This search will return, as requested, return 50 results, with the top few results looking like this, after we apply keyword highlighting:

Fridge handle results.png

So we immediately have some useful results, with many relevant results. An excellent starting point.

But we can go further. If we select an image or an abstract that looks relevant, we can open up up a Patent Review Panel. Not only is the image very clear, but there is the Promote button, which can move this patent number into the search box (at the bottom of this image, marked in red):

Handle found.png

We can do that for a number of patents in this search, and then rerun this search, reviewing the results again, and even automatically filtering out the results we have previously seen. And continue this iteration process as many times as we choose.

How to review lots of results quickly and efficiently

Reviewing the results in this single page scroll down does not take that long, but there are some interesting options. These include

1) Applying a keyword filter, in this case handle:

Handle filter.png

This removes a lot of patents, that may be irrelevant, from the results.

2) Or unticking the abstract box, to make the result even more responsive

Abstract box unticked.png

Just how responsive? The link found here lists the top 500 results. Open it up, wait for the page to fully load - and scroll through the results - all 500 of them.

It doesn’t take long does it ? Maybe use the zoom function in your browser - images will become even easier to review as you scroll (quickly) down the page.

Try quickly scrolling through 500 results in some other patent and design database we could name… and we if we choose, we can have up to 2000 image in a single page.

OK, this method is not perfect, but it is fast, and this speed is more than a ‘nice to have’ feature. It has real value - you can run a variety of queries, to see what you can find. You can experiment with a high range of different starting patents, while promoting good patents as you go along.

In my mind, if I review say 2000 design images and find just one that provides substantive prior art, the search has been a complete success. I don’t care about the 1999 false positives -the only thing that matters is the successful result. In contrast, if we run out of time when using another database, and only end up reviewing 500 images because it takes so long to review - well that is a failure.

Conclusions - so you can search for images using Ambercite

The above approach is exactly the approach I used in the two successful design searches I have recently run, and with complete success. In both cases I was looking for rather specific features of the designs I was reviewing - and was able to find them using a search that used Ambercite..

Want to try to this for yourself? We offer free online trials (some restrictions apply) - click the link below to try Ambercite for yourself.

Mike Lloyd