The Espacenet patent database has a new look format, Version 5, which will take over from the current format in a few months' time.
The database, hosted by the European Patent Office (EPO), is meant to be for novices, providing a vast amount of patent data such as summaries and classifications as well as the actual patent specifications for many countries.
The new look conforms with the new appearance of the European Patent Register, which gives the status of applications going through the system -- has it been examined yet for novelty, is it granted, and so on. That is meant for experts.
I will miss the cosy feel and colours of the old format. I find the new format rather cold and clinical, partly because of the typeface that was chosen. I wonder if novices would be put off by its official look (and the numerous options). I would suggest that links to it should be to the Advanced Search format rather than to the SmartSearch format which is the link offered by the EPO, as an empty box tends to cause doubt over what to enter.
The Advanced Search offers different fields such as applicant name, title and so on, with suggestions of what to enter. Quick Help, on the left hand side of the page, should be used by anyone unfamiliar with the database to get the best out of it. It alters according to the format that you are in.
Exporting capabilities have been enhanced. CSV or XLS format can be used. A new option is very useful. You can tick the little boxes against each document in the Result List and then on Download Covers (at top). This produces a PDF of the front pages. This option is also available in the My Patents List folder.
If the default "worldwide" database option at the top is changed to read "EP" then the ability to search the complete text is added as an option for EPO documents. This can be valuable for rare wordings, but for common words can produce massive numbers of hits.
I would like to see in future some changes (besides bringing colours back).
-- The ability to ask for a pie graph of say the top five patent classifications for the results of a search. That would help determine which are the most popular classes found when entering keywords.
-- At present it looks as if you either click on a box when results are in Result List format, or on a star when in bibliographic data format, to select the document for a folder, "my patents list", for later study. Two apparent methods to do the same thing causes confusion. In fact only the star selects the patents ! The star is also used next to the inventor's name in Result List format, and also selects, but it is not obvious what it is there for.
-- There should be the ability to have different, named folders instead of just the one as you may be working on different subjects.
-- Formerly a revised search would show patents already in your folder as ticked so that you do not need to look at them again. This should be restored.
-- You should also be able to mark patents that are not of interest. They too would not have to be looked at again. To prevent their being permanently ticked there would have to be some mechanism so that this can be turned off, perhaps by indicating you wish to remove all negative ticks, and/ or automatically removing them when next in the database.
-- The ability to create sets of data which can be manipulated using Boolean logic by experts (who do use the database a lot).
There are other concerns such as the apparent lack of an algorithm so that the most important document rather than the first is credited as the lead document in the results list. It looks odd if for example a Hong Kong document is credited when there is a PCT document in the "patent family".
There is no doubt that the database is extremely useful when properly searched, and when the implications of what is found or not found are understood. Patent searching is not simple, and it is misleading to give the impression that it is. It is easy to do a poor search and think that there is nothing relevant. Hence my advice to take advice from public libraries that deal with patents, or search rooms at patent offices. Europe has a list, as does the USA.