Patent database adds 20 million image files

The Patent and Trademark Office has launched one of the federal government’s
biggest online databases, a 2T colossus that houses both images and text of more than 2
million patents and 1 million registered and pending trademarks.

The patent database, accessible at to anyone with a Web browser,
previously contained only text. PTO added 20 million .tif image files to the system last

“You can now look over an entire patent application,” Commerce Secretary
William Daley said. “Before that, you could only get text files, which is an enormous
help, but you could not see the visuals. Now you’re able to see the drawings and the
pictures that bring the text to life.”

To view the images, users must have TIFF image viewer software, which can be downloaded
from the PTO site.

The patent graphics and drawings will be a boon to the scientific community, said Bert
Vogelstein, a cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins University who holds 59 patents.

“As a user, what’s most impressive clearly is the visuals, because they were
simply impossible to obtain in a quick way before,” said Vogelstein, who described
patents as the lifeblood of research. “This is just going to be enormously useful and
incredibly heavily used, so I hope [PTO has] a really powerful server.”

The image retrieval system, developed by Computer Sciences Corp. and hosted by PTO in
Arlington, Va., uses two Hewlett-Packard K570 Enterprise servers with a Netscape
Enterprise Server running under HP-UX 11.0. Each server has two 200-MHz HP PA-8200 CPUs
and 1G of RAM.

The two image servers share one disk subsystem from EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, Mass., with
2T of storage available to hold the patent images.

The servers are connected to the Internet via a fractional T3 line operating at 4 Mbps
with a T1 line for backup.

PTO spent about $1 million on the project, which was below original projections, said
Todd Dickinson, acting commissioner of patents and trademarks.

The system contains searchable text and images of patents dating to 1976. PTO hopes to
have all patents available online in about three years, Dickinson said.

The government has issued about 6 million patents since the first patent in 1790.

Users can search for a patent by patent number, an inventor’s name, the year a
patent was granted, keyword or subject area. 

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