The human ability to invent technology as labour-saving devices or ways to help us relax is probably the biggest defining factor between us and the rest of the animal world. From the first time one of our monkey ancestors picked up a club, to the CERN institute smashing large hadrons together, man has a subconscious driving force to create more and more new technologies. I doubt that the first primate to pick up a stick and use it as a tool was concerned about patenting his or her incredible new idea. Nowadays, it is very uncommon for the inventor of a new technology or a business that creates a new brand logo not to patent this design.
Just in case you were wondering, a patent is ‘a set of exclusive rights granted by a state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for a public disclosure of that invention’. If the patent becomes publicly disclosed then how does a member of the public go about viewing a patent? The answer is ‘Google patents’, in 2006 Google launched a fantastic new tool to view over 7 million patents. Google patents, is a search engine that indexes patents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The 7 million patents were already on the USPTO database that existed in the public domain but Google via the use of optical character recognition (OCR) technology has made them searchable on-line. Not only does it include all United States patents but also all published patent applications.Being able to search through patents serves two main functions. The first being, its super cool to look up who owns the intellectual property rights to all those important or interesting inventions. The second useful function is for inventors and businesses to check the patents of ideas or logos they are thinking of using to make sure that they are not stepping on anybodies toes. For example if you have a name for your company you can check Google patents to get a sense of the competitive landscape for the proposed name. Once you are sure that the name is unique you can then go about making a trademark for that name.
Google patents, is not without its critics. Some say that the indexing has faults; the example cited on Wikipedia is that not all IBM patents were locatable. Searching for IBM patents only finds 1,197 results but in 2005 alone IBM received nearly 3,000 patents.
Google is again leading the field in niche search engine capabilities. I spent a lot of time looking through interesting and weird patents; I suggest you have a go its fun. Not only can it entertain the restless mind it also serves as an important tool for small businesses. The only thing that exists as a peer to this search tool is Baidu Patents launched in 2008. Baidu Patents searches 2.7 million Chinese patents taken from the China Patent Information Centre and Chinese Patent Office. It will be interesting to see how this database grows. Unfortunately patents do not exist on Baidu Patents for the creation of gunpowder or the domestication of the chicken (two of the worlds most important inventions attributed to the Chinese).