New patent search tool could aid economic research

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A Web-based patent search tool the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office released last week may help shed light on how inventions impact the economy.

“We’re happy when anyone can use it,” Alan Marco, the agency’s chief economist, told FedScoop. But, “our goal in this was to better understand how innovation functions and what its impact is on the economy.”

Called PatentsView, the site allows users to search four decades of patent data by title, name of inventor along with a range of other factors. It offers charts and graphs that illustrate search results, allows researchers to download large amounts of data for in-depth analysis, and has an API — short for application programming interface — for programmers who want to link PatentsView information with other data.

The agency debuted PatentsView last week. Using the old system, it might take a user hours or days to piece together data that PatentsView can combine in a matter of seconds, according to a release.

Marco talked about the new tool outside an agency-sponsored public workshop where teams of experts presented algorithms that could help PatentsView better differentiate inventors who have the same name.

“It’s a huge problem. There is no unique identifier” for names, he said. “When you log into your bank, you have a username and password. They know who you are. But we don’t ask inventors to do that.”

Marco said the agency would continue to improve the tool. From the presenters at the workshop, judges selected an algorithm from the University of Massachusetts to integrate into the PatentsView systems. In the future, Marco hopes the system will be able to track what agency-funded research led to patents, aggregate related patents in more sophisticated ways and create elaborate webs showing connections between inventors.

Marco said so far the agency has gotten a small amount of feedback on the newly launched tool and said the agency was looking for more.

“Where we’re going with it really is going to be in large part where the community wants us to go,” he said.

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Commerce Department, Departments, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
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