New patent database exposes inventors' old ideas

The Federal government and patent agency IP Australia have launched a new open, online database featuring almost 20 years' worth of the country's patent application records, in a bid to make it easier for inventors to check if someone else has already had their light bulb moment.

The Federal government and patent agency IP Australia have launched a new open, online database featuring almost 20 years' worth of the country's patent application records, in a bid to make it easier for inventors to check if someone else has already had their light bulb moment.

The AusPat database, launched this week as part of a joint initiative between the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) and IP Australia, will allow researchers and the innovation industry to crosscheck patent applications with records dating back as far as 1979.

"We developed the database entirely in-house. There were existing services but they were spread between two separate databases — AusPat has combined them in one interface," David Johnson, IP Australia CIO, said.

Johnson told ZDNet.com.au that the organisation engineered the new database by combining its mainframe — which held all of its bibliographic patent data, with its mid-range system — where all of the patent specification data was stored.

According to the DIISR, the AusPat database has consolidated patent information and records previously spread across several unconnected databases, after the Department and IP Australia consulted with inventors and industry experts extensively ahead of the project to ascertain what the major difficulties with the patent application process were.

"Some of our toughest critics in the past have already given us some good feedback about AusPat, but we go out to them and got them involved at every stage of the development," said IP Australia's Johnson.

Federal Innovation Minister, Senator Kim Carr, said that he expects the new system to make patent searching less time consuming. "Searching patent information is a crucial step in any innovation process. It tells you what has already been invented and protected, which can save inventors a great deal of time and effort," he said in a statement.

"If you are in the business of innovation or have an idea and want to see what has already been protected in that particular area, then I'd recommend using AusPat very early on in the process," Carr added.

IP Australia's Johnson said that the database is divided up according to types of technology, and employs some search approximations similar to Google — such as a fuzzy logic — which takes into account potential spelling mistakes in a user's search terms.

The Minister's office revealed that AusPat is just the first in a number of other planned initiatives with IP Australia to assist inventors and businesses with the patent search process.

"This organisation has been around since 1904, so we're trying to electronically capture everything back to the year dot," said Johnson, revealing some of the details of the agency's next project, which according to Johnson will be online by next year.

"We'll be converting from all types of materials such as microfiche, paper and film, so it should keep things interesting," he said.

IP Australia will also be working on uploading historical patent opposition data on to AusPat, with Johnson saying his aim is to include "as much information and as much specific detail about individual patents on the database as possible".