USPTO's patent documents go from fee to free

Agency teams with Google to make 7 million patents available online

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has put its money where its mouth is on open government. Its entire collection of patents, once available only as a fee-based service, is now available online for free.

USPTO had wrestled with what to do about the Obama administration’s Open Government Initiative, and not just because opening its data on the Web meant that it couldn’t charge for it. Some of its data wasn’t in machine-readable formats, for one, and the agency didn’t have the money to fix the problem.

So the patent office issued a presolicitation notice in May looking for a mutually beneficial agreement with a contractor and, in June, struck a deal with Google to get the material online. The results are now on the Google Patents website.

The site offers documents on some 7 million patents, some of which date to 1790. Google converted USPTO’s image database into a searchable format, and it allows both full-text searches and advanced searches by criteria such as an inventor’s name or a patent number. Patents can be downloaded as a PDF.

The move potentially saves a lot of money for people researching patents. A bulk file download on CDs, DVDs or digital tape, which some law firms might want, is still available but can cost from $10,000 to $250,000, depending on the size of the download.

Or users can get it for free, is certainly one way of putting the idea of open data to work.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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