I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


7 April 2014

Search Matters 2014: training at EPO

I attended the Search Matters 2014 conference at The Hague last week, where I gave the keynote speech.

Search Matters is an annual two-day meeting where the European Patent Office (EPO) provide talks and workshops to help patent professionals learn about patent searching tools, including changes in provision. I'd never been before, and it was certainly intensive. About 120 attended, and I went to six workshops on topics such as accessing Chinese and Korean patent information, and citation searching to assist in identifying relevant material. On the whole, the emphasis was on finding older patents that might invalidate a patent application -- what is called "prior art."

I think everyone else providing the talks and workshops were EPO staff, but I had been asked to give the keynote speech. I was asked to choose any relevant topic and to make it entertaining and informative. The title was Do you know English ? The challenge of the English language for searchers, and was a light-hearted review of common problems that we all face, including native English speakers.

These included English spelling; the numerous synonyms that the language has; verbs that are also nouns; US versus British spelling or wording; establishing terminology such as wording for cars and aircraft; and compound nouns, where there can be uncertainty over whether a word is spelt as one word or as two.

For example, I would never think of spelling "ballpoint" as "ball point", yet in the relevant patent class for ballpoint pens, B43K7/00, the number of title hits on the free Espacenet database was:

ball point(s)......................603

Within the same class, there were other wordings for the basic idea of a such a writing instrument:

writing instrument(s).........323
writing implement(s).........122
writing device(s).................11

"Pen" would of course have overlapped with other wordings. The implication is, of course, use all possible variants.

I told a few jokes about machine translations. The English saying "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" get translated into Russian and back again and becomes "The vodka is great but the meat is lousy", and the French saying "Voici l'Anglais avec son sangfroid habituel" becomes "Here comes the Englishman with his usual bloody cold". I had scoffed in 1988 at the idea of machine translations at a meeting, but happily admit that they are now very useful and are of course much used. For patents, the Patenttranslate function on Espacenet is very valuable for translating ASCII text. Unlike other translation tools, it incorporates numerous technical wordings.

There is also Patentese, the dialect used by patent attorneys to draft "broad yet precise" patent claims. I gave the example of the weird wording in John Keogh's Circular transportation facilitation device, better known as a wheel. Keogh was a patent attorney who wanted to make fun of the new Australian innovation patent, which was not checked for novelty. I also gave the (fictitious ?) example of the patent attorney who, confronted by an optimist saying that a glass was half full, and a pessimist saying it was half empty, replied that it was an open-ended cylinder horizontally bissected by liquid H2O.

As a paperless conference, the presentations were put on a USB which was given to the participants. I will certainly keep it for review as it was hard to keep track of all the information. I learnt about new things, and enjoyed networking with the participants. I appreciated being invited to contribute to the conference, and the pleasant hospitality offered. I also enjoyed staying at Delft, and for the first time in my life visited Rotterdam, from which my ancestor migrated to England in 1875.

The website promises to publish the lectures and the larger workshops as e-learning modules by mid-May.

I would encourage those professionals who feel the need to strengthen their skills in patenting searching to attend next year's workshop.

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